Charlotte Hornets

NBA | Charlotte Hornets vs. Boston Celtics | Rick Bonnell | recap | Dec 16 | 2016

I cover Kemba Walker on a daily basis, so I’m not easily impressed with players who can beat you off the dribble.

Well, if there’s a tougher player to stay in front of than Boston Celtic Isaiah Thomas, I haven’t seen him.

Thomas is a blur and sometimes you just have no choice but to foul him, rather than give him a clean path to the basket. That’s what Charlotte Hornet Marco Belinelli did in the fourth quarter of what then was a tight game. Belinelli’s contact was initially called a common foul, then a replay review upgraded the foul to Flagrant 1.

That was the beginning of the end for the Hornets. A 3-point deficit bloated to 11 in the next minute. The Celtics won by six, making the Hornets 0-4 on this five-game road trip.

The problem Friday was the Hornets failed to score off of enough high-quality possessions.

So the only way for them not to be 0-fored on this trip is to win in Atlanta, where they have lost 10 of the last 11.

Obviously, the Hornets were at a disadvantage Friday playing without Walker, who had an excused absence for a personal matter. But this was Thomas’ first game back from missing four with a groin strain. You’d never know that by his productivity. He scored a game-high 26 points, seven of those coming in the decisive final period.

Hornets point guards Ramon Sessions and Brian Roberts both played well Friday, but they don’t add up to a Walker, who is good for at least 17 points per game and often far more. In Walker’s absence, shooting guard Nic Batum more aggressively looked for his shot. He finished with 22 points, two short of his high for the season.

The problem Friday was the Hornets failed to score off of enough high-quality possessions. They ended this game shooting just 33 percent. The Celtics weren’t great offensively, but if you have a Thomas ripping holes in the other team’s defense, you can always keep up with the scoring.

People the Hornets need to depend on offensively just didn’t perform. Belinelli, who has been so effective lately, made just four of his 13 shots. Power forward Frank Kaminsky continued a slump that started prior to this trip. He was 3-of-10 from the field Friday. Center Cody Zeller, who doesn’t take many low-percentage shots, made just one of seven tries.

Now the (somewhat) good news: After two days of cajoling by coach Steve Clifford, the Hornets applied themselves better defensively and as rebounders.

Now the (somewhat) good news: After two days of cajoling by coach Steve Clifford, the Hornets applied themselves better defensively and as rebounders. Clifford was exasperated with how his players were bullied Wednesday night by Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat.

Clifford was still talking about that pre-game Friday, saying the past three games were the worst defensive performances of his tenure as coach. He added it’s not that the Hornets can’t play with more physicality, but rather they choose not to do so.

Friday was better. The Celtics scored 38 points in the paint, and that was more about Thomas’ drives than post-ups by other players. Also, the Hornets outrebounded the Celtics 54 to 46.

Clifford reminded post-game that the Hornets’ strength is its skill level. So in a game that was less about muscle than finesse, he expects them to fare better.

Unfortunately, no one was about to stay in Thomas’ way long enough to keep him off the rim.

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