Celtics Silent Hornets’ Buzz, Pull Out Resilient OT Win

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On Opening Night at Madison Square Garden, the Celtics rallied back from an 11-point, fourth-quarter deficit with less than five minutes remaining in regulation against the New York Knicks, only to fall short, 138-134, in double-overtime.

Five nights later, it was time for redemption.

The situation was similar Monday night, as Boston found itself on the road in Charlotte, trailing a previously-unbeaten Hornets team by 12 points with less than six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Despite being on the second night of a back-to-back, Boston once again stormed back, tied up the game, and sent it into overtime.

Only this time, the C's pulled away in convincing fashion for a 140-129 win, completing a back-to-back road sweep of Houston and Charlotte.

“Just keep telling each other we have a lot of game left,” Jayson Tatum said of the comeback following a 41-point, seven-rebound, eight-assist individual effort. “In basketball, five and a half minutes is a long time, a lot of possessions. We just had to focus on getting stops. We started pressing just to kind of speed them up a little bit.”

Despite the high-scoring result from both sides, Boston made its biggest impact on defense down the stretch. The C’s outscored Charlotte 38-15 during the final 11 minutes of action, including an 18-7 advantage during the five-minute overtime period.

“Obviously we were very resilient,” said first-year head coach Ime Udoka. “I think it was similar to New York in that instance. Same thing, down [double-digits] late and chipped our way back. But we junked it up a little bit. We started trapping a little bit, took some fouls on (Mason) Plumlee, just tried to break their rhythm, made some big plays and big shots and it worked out in our favor.”

There were several big plays and shots made by Tatum and Jaylen Brown (30 points, nine rebounds, three assists), but it was Dennis Schroder and Marcus Smart who came up big on the defensive end. The point-guard duo upped the tenacity down the stretch, helping to cool off Charlotte’s hot scorers.

Smart came up with the biggest defensive play of the night when he stole Gordon Hayward’s inbound pass on the final possession of regulation, eliminating Charlotte’s chances of winning the game at the buzzer.

“That was a great moment for us,” Brown said of the comeback overall. “We were down in the fourth quarter, we ramped up the pressure a little bit and cut the deficit in a matter of minutes. Different group, resilient guys. Dennis played well. Marcus Smart was terrific, especially at the end of the game. He may not get credit for having a great game, but defensively he won that game for us.”

Resiliency was a lacking feature in last year’s team. Although, to be fair, that team also dealt with more health-related adversity than any other team in the league. But even this year’s team has suffered some early injuries and unpredictable absences, including Al Horford and Romeo Langford in this particular instance. And so to claw back on the road as they did on Opening Night (despite the loss) and on Monday night signaled a potential improvement in that department.

“It’s showing our growth,” Smart said of that resiliency. “I don't know if last year we would've been in that same situation (to force overtime and have a chance to win). Nine times out of 10, we probably would've folded. It just shows that the growth that we're showing as a team, as individuals.”

It also showed that Udoka was likely correct when he labeled Friday night’s 33-point loss to Toronto as an “aberration.”

“We played hard in the preseason and every day in training camp,” Udoka claimed. “They are going at each other hard in practice and in the first three games other than the Toronto game. So they are building on that, playing the way we wanted to, sharing the ball offensively obviously, but also playing hard, trying to get that defensive mindset down. I preach it every night, that we have to do it on that end. We scored a ton of points in the first half (68) just like they did (66), but if we can buckle down defensively, we know we’re going to score enough points to be in good shape every night.”


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