During their red-hot franchise-record start, the Charlotte Hornets’ depth had been challenged.
An ankle injury kept leading scorer Terry Rozier out for two of their first three games, just as it did in Monday night’s tilt with Boston. PJ Washington was sidelined, too, incapable of playing due to right knee discomfort sustained a night earlier in Brooklyn. Juggling the absences is something coach James Borrego has been forced to navigate, and the Hornets have found ways to overcome it with the interchangeable pieces.
That early-season luck ran out against the Celtics.
Unable to potentially win it in regulation when Gordon Hayward and LaMelo Ball couldn’t get together on an inbound pass with 11.3 seconds remaining, the Hornets succumbed to Boston 140-129 in overtime at Spectrum Center to halt their three-game winning streak.
“This hurts,” Kelly Oubre said. “It’s early in the season. But at the end of the day, every loss, it hurts. We want to continue on the straight and narrow, but I don’t think we took any steps back tonight. I think the learning lesson for it is to remain humble and continue to push forward, and I think that we will do that. So, we have another game in two days.”
But until then, this is going to sting.
“We never want to lose, but sometimes you got to look at it and take lessons from the ‘L,’ ” Ball said. “I feel like we took a lot of lessons. Like I said, that’s going to help us in the future.”
Here are three things we learned in the Hornets’ first loss of the season:
That’s what kept getting put up seemingly all night by the Hornets. They drained a season-high 19 3-pointers, led by their starting backcourt tandem of Ball and Kelly Oubre Jr. The duo combined to connect on 12 of 24 beyond the arc, slightly cooling off after nailing 9 of 12 together.
Ball tied his career high with seven 3-pointers, firing from mostly straightaway. Oubre canned half his 10 attempts, assisting in opening up the floor.
Overall, the Hornets totaled 10 makes beyond the arc in the first quarter alone.
“They were in the paint so we had a lot of wide open shots,” Oubre said. “Their defense is very paint dominant, so drive-and-kicks were there all night. I think we settled a couple of times of course and that is something we can watch film and nitpick. But it was one of those games.”
Ball had nine assists and also recorded four turnovers before fouling out in overtime.
“He’s a good player,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart said. “I mean, he’s a really good player. He has a freedom that a lot of players don’t have early in their career, and that’s just to come in and just basically do whatever he wants. When you have the freedom like that and you are a good player, it makes you look even better. So you tip your hat off to him. He’s only going to continue to get better and he’ s only going to continue to help their team.”
CODY MARTIN UNDER THE RADAR
Cody Martin remains one of the first people summoned off the bench by Borrego through the first four games. Although he didn’t have his best outing against the Celtics, he came in averaging 10.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game.
He’s carved out a nice role for himself already, establishing himself as a key member of the rotation. Martin’s name has been uttered following nearly every game because of the intangibles he brings to the table. His defensive awareness is about as good as anyone on the team, and that was on display against James Harden in Brooklyn when he drew charging fouls on consecutive drives to the bucket.
Most of the things Martin does aren’t easily detectable and can go unnoticed. But his teammates and coaches are fully aware of the influence he’s having.
“It shows up in film, it’s clear as day,” Borrego said. “Every time you watch his film, if you were to grade somebody on a scale every single possession, he grades out well on every possession. He’s in the right spot at the right time, making key plays — defensively, offensively. Cutting at the right time. Making a big steal. His defense on Harden was tremendous. His impact in the game did not show up in the box score, but every night he’s had his imprint on our wins, every single night.
“And he does it selflessly. He doesn’t care if he gets the credit. He just wants to win games and he’s an absolute stud. I love him. I think he’s everything we want to be as Hornets — selfless, tough, physical, two-way player. I think he’s just growing and blossoming offensively as well. To have the confidence to shoot the ball the way he is right now is only going to blossom his full game right now. Tremendous start for him.”
THE GORDON PLAN
At the outset of training camp, Borrego revealed the Hornets intended to lean on their training staff when it came to keeping Hayward healthy and available all season.
Placing him in some sort of load management was discussed, but there didn’t seem to be any hard distinctive breakdown of how they were going to rest Hayward. They’ve let him stay off his feet during a couple of practices already and perhaps that’s why they didn’t feel the need to sit on the tail end of the season’s first set of games on consecutive nights.
It doesn’t sound like Hayward, who posted 15 points on 5 of 12 shooting playing against his old team for the first time, will be doing it any time soon, either.
“We’ll take it one back-to-back at a time,” Borrego said. “He feels good, he feels steady. So right now the plan is not to sit out on back-to-backs. We could get to that point at some point, but we are not there now.”
Next Hornets game
Charlotte travels to face the Orlando Magic at 7 p.m. Wednesday (Bally Sports Southeast).