Tatum, Hauser lead Celtics to comfortable win over Hornets


Jaylen Brown missed the game with a hand injury, but Sam Hauser made up for his absence.

Joe Mazzulla
Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla directs his team against the Charlotte Hornets during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, April 1, 2024. AP

The Celtics claimed a 118-104 victory over the Hornets on Monday, pulling away in the second half for a comfortable win to end their season-long six-game road trip. 

Here are the takeaways. 

1. The Celtics are, of course, much better than the Hornets (especially the Hornets sans LaMelo Ball) and Monday’s game was never really in jeopardy. Despite a solid 23-point revenge (sort of) game from Grant Williams, the Celtics took a double-digit lead in a third quarter dominated by Kristaps Porzingis and held that lead through a fourth dominated by Sam Hauser. 

The Celtics’ magic number to clinch the NBA’s best record is now two with seven games remaining. With contests against the Trail Blazers, Wizards and Hornets (again) still on the docket, they are in great shape, although Jayson Tatum told reporters after the game that a big part of the team’s success has been because they haven’t taken anything for granted.

“I think last year we were so antsy to just get back to the Finals that we had a few bad losses in the last few weeks of the season,” Tatum said. “We went to six games in that first round. We may have took some things for granted. This year, we’ve done a really good job of not skipping steps and respecting every game, every day, just trying to get better, as cliche as that sounds.”

2. Tatum was averaging more than 40 points per game against the Hornets in his last five contests prior to Monday – an absurd total that slipped a bit when he scored 25 on 9-for-19 shooting. The Celtics didn’t need Tatum to torch the Hornets fully, but he took advantage of mismatches and switches whenever the Hornets were unfortunate enough to surrender them and finished with 10 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a blocked shot. 

3. Jaylen Brown sat out due to a hand injury, which seemed a little inevitable when he went through a laundry list of ailments following the Celtics’ win over the Pelicans on Saturday. The hand seemed to be the most pressing – Brown said he will have it looked at when he gets back to Boston. He was spotted getting shots up before Monday’s game without a wrap. 

Don’t be surprised if Brown misses more time to get as healthy as possible.

4. Sam Hauser is proof that guarding a 3-pointer shooter is always easier in theory than it is in practice. 

On Hauser’s first 3-pointer, the ball simply swung to him. On his second, he relocated to give Payton Pritchard an outlet when his man doubled (which, why are you doubling off Sam Hauser?). He snuck out of the corner and gave Tatum a passing target for his third triple as the third quarter wound down. He snuck out of the opposite corner and scored his fourth 3-pointer off a skip pass from Derrick White. His fifth 3-pointer came as he arrived in his designated corner in transition as the Hornets lost track of him, which prompted a “Come on … WOW!” from legendarily enthusiastic Hornets play-by-play announcer Eric Collins (Collins had lost enthusiasm by Hauser’s seventh 3-pointer, however: “I’m getting tired of this, Dell,” he told Steph Curry’s father, the Hornets’ color announcer).

In theory, sticking with a shooter should be easy. In practice, it’s difficult to guard someone who can relocate and float to the right area. Hauser is very good at it. 

5. Readers who have followed the Celtics throughout the year will be unsurprised to read that Porzingis was a massive mismatch, especially when the Hornets went small with Grant Williams at the five. Porzingis finished with 20 points on 6-for-10 shooting.

6. The Celtics came to Williams’ defense last month when legendary play-by-play announcer Mike Gorman said on 98.5 that Williams was a “bad locker room guy.”

Tatum and Brown in particular made their protests heard, which Williams appreciated.

“You can’t control people’s opinions or what they say,” Williams told Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe. “It meant the world to me that Jayson and Jaylen came to my defense without me asking. It was pretty cool seeing that. It showed the person that I am.”

Tatum – who high-fived and embraced Williams enthusiastically both before and after the game – smiled when a reporter asked about talking trash to his former teammate.

“Grant always got some s— to say,” Tatum said. “But that’s my brother for life. It’s cool, I don’t talk trash at all, but if it’s somebody I’m close with, like today with Grant, I like to have fun out there. It’s always good to see him, compete against him.”

Williams echoed Tatum’s sentiments. 

“He’s family. All the guys on that team,” Williams said. “We had tremendous years together. Whether it’s Sam going to his wedding last summer, whether it’s Payton [Pritchard], who’s getting married here soon, JT, JB, Luke Kornet actually one of the best guys in the league, one of the best teammates I’ve ever had. Al [Horford] being my vet.”

So what was the trash talk? Predictably, Williams was willing to share. 

“[Tatum] and D-White constantly called me a hack and I’m always like, ‘Y’all are hacks and you just don’t get called for it because you are superstars,’” Williams said. “And I always tease them about that, because I think he was saying I was fouling KP or something like that. And I was just like, ‘Hey man, you fouled [Aleksej Pokuševski] and Brandon [Miller] on two possessions in a row, and they just didn’t call a foul on you because you are light-skinned and you think you are pretty.’ But that’s all it was.”

7. With Brown sidelined, the Celtics started Al Horford and Kristaps Porzingis, which is an intriguing combination with the postseason looming. Lineups with Porzingis and Horford on the floor have outscored teams by 12.9 points per 100 possessions this year, per Cleaning the Glass.

8. The Celtics return to TD Garden for their toughest remaining game on the schedule, a showdown against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who currently hold the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. 

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