CHARLOTTE — Facing a 16-point deficit with 5:20 left in the second quarter, Joe Mazzulla and the Celtics found themselves again on the wrong end of a lopsided first half.
The memory of what happened in Oklahoma City on January 3 still lingers in the rear-view mirror as the Celtics’ interim head coach spoke about the potential consequences of allowing a young talented Hornets team to get hot early prior to tip-off. Mazzulla warned us about this. And, after LaMelo Ball scored five of his team-high 31 points in the opening minutes of the second quarter, Mazzulla called a timeout. Then, 2:16 later, he called another when the Celtics’ deficit was only down to 14.
“I thought those two timeouts were an opportunity to build an awareness of how the game was going and what we were doing well and what we weren’t,” Mazzulla told CLNS Media. “I think that was a way to communicate to the team this is where we’re at, and we’ve been here before, and we failed at it, so how can we get better? I expected it to go that way because Charlotte’s a good team.”
Joe triggered a 15-4 run, bringing the Celtics to within four (66-62) — which set the stage for a dominating third-quarter performance for Jayson Tatum, who netted 17 of his game-high 33 points. Malcolm Brogdon made 11-of-17 attempts, including 4-of-6 from deep, as the Celtics beat the Hornets 122-106.
“I think we lose that game a month ago,” Mazzulla told CLNS Media. “Allowing a team as potent as they can be, as talented as they are, to get off to a good start. So, I thought our guys did a great job maintaining their poise, sticking with it. One of the things we talk about is closing out quarters. So, the end of the second quarter was huge for us. We were able to bounce back. I just thought we did a great job staying the course. We differentiated what we were living with and what we needed to take away, and it was clear in the few minutes of the game — what we needed to take away.”
The Celtics’ defense rattled the Hornets throughout the second half, outscoring Charlotte 60-40 as Boston captured its sixth consecutive win since its embarrassing 150-117 loss to the Thunder. Robert Williams III (12 rebounds, six points) created second-chance opportunities, pulling down six offensive rebounds while Al Horford dove for loose balls and clogged the Hornets’ passing lanes. He finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and two steals.
Mazzulla also spoke on Tatum’s growth as one of the league’s elite scorers, including Jayson’s knack for wanting to perform at a high level and learning what it takes to do that on a night-to-night basis.
“He has an emphasis of wanting to get going. We talked about it earlier in the year; he’s learning how teams are guarding him because they change from night to night. They change quarter to quarter,” Mazzulla said. “So, he’s done a really good job of building an awareness of what the coverage is and kind of the solution for that coverage, whether it’s for him or his teammates.”
Tatum dedicated his 33-point performance to his teammate Derrick White, who exited the game with a sprained neck in the first quarter. As for Mazzulla’s assessment of how this particular game would have played out one month ago, Jayson was asked if he agreed with the coach’s opinion.
“No,” Tatum replied with a smile. “But that’s alright. We disagree sometimes. But I think he’s just trying to say that we’ve matured as a team over the course of the season — which I agree with. We have.”