CHARLOTTE, N.C. —The Celtics’ resilience Monday was stunning considering their effort level just four days ago. With every reason to relent and allow Charlotte to run away with a victory, coach Ime Udoka’s crew instead responded with a defining rally.
After coming back from a 12-point deficit to force overtime, the Celtics then punched out the previously undefeated Hornets with a game-ending 14-0 run, behind the brilliance of Jayson Tatum and a thunderous dunk from Jaylen Brown in a 140-129 win.
Trailing by three in overtime, Dennis Schröder began the momentum shift with a tying 3-pointer then Brown, who missed Sunday’s game with a sore knee, added 5 consecutive points, including a hammer dunk on Charlotte’s Miles Bridges.
Brown responded with a scream, and a large Celtics contingent at the Spectrum Center went into a frenzy.
Tatum finished with 41 points (after 34 Sunday), Brown added 30, and Schröder scored 23. The Celtics overcame seven 3-pointers by LaMelo Ball, the marvelous second-year player, and held the Hornets to six 3-pointers in the second half and overtime after yielding 13 in the first half.
It was a satisfying win considering the Celtics lost by 32 points at home Friday to Toronto and wasted chances to win in the first overtime of a double OT loss in the season opener against the Knicks.
“That was a big win for us,” Brown said. “That was a great moment for us. We down (12) in the fourth quarter and ramped up the pressure a little bit. Different group, we’ve got a lot of resilient guys.”
Udoka said he told his players after forcing overtime not to let another chance for a late win go away. It’s been an eventful first four games but the overall improvement has been noticeable on this two-game road trip.
The defense locked down Houston in the final three quarters to win easily and on Monday, it accepted the challenge of stopping a scorching Charlotte team in the final minutes of regulation and overtime. The Hornets managed just 12 points in the final 9:30 and didn’t score in the final 2:55 of overtime.
Perhaps last season, with the Celtics’ fleeting fortitude, this is a game they might have lost. Marcus Smart said he notices a difference in this team.
“It’s showing our growth and I don’t know last year if we would have been in that situation, nine times out of 10 we would have folded,” he said. “Things don’t go our way. We didn’t put our heads down and pout. We came and took it from them in the end when it mattered. We didn’t continue to let them punch us in the mouth.”
After trailing 114-102 with six minutes, the Celtics turnaround began. They were more aggressive defensively, challenging shots at the rim, putting hands in faces, and chasing down loose balls to prevent second-chance possessions.
They harassed Ball and his teammates to get steals and fastbreak points. Robert Williams gave the Celtics a brief lead with an alley-oop dunk on a Tatum pass with 1:42 left.
Ball, an emerging star, countered with his sixth 3-pointer to give Charlotte a 122-120 lead with 1:30 left. After two Tatum free throws, Smart lunged to clip a lazy inbounds pass from former Celtic Gordon Hayward to give Boston the final possession in regulation. Tatum was stripped of the ball and the Celtics didn’t attempt a shot.
They regained the momentum, however, by scoring the first 4 points of overtime. Brown then cemented with a stepback 3-pointer in front of the Celtics bench followed by his dunk on Bridges, displaying all of his arsenal.
“I knew that if I tried to lay it up, (Bridges) was going to send it back to Boston. I knew if I went up, I was going up with bad intentions,” Brown said. “It’s a good feeling. I think it’s a momentum swinger for your team, gets your team excited. Especially this year, when I’ve got an opportunity to do that, I am.”
Udoka has constantly stressed making more of a defensive impact early in games, but that wasn’t the case Monday and it forced the Celtics into a shootout. The Hornets, who averaged 12 3-pointers in the first three games, made 11 in the first 17-plus minutes, including four each from Ball and Kelly Oubre.
Most of those looks were open as the Celtics were completely confused in defensive switches and allowed unimpeded looks. Ball, the reigning Rookie of the Year, flipped a few of his three attempts from well beyond the arc.
“Cross matches in transition, and there was some hesitation and confusion there,” Udoka said of the early defense. “It led to some early threes. We just simplified over coverage, which we do most of the time and it worked for us in the second half.”
With Al Horford and Romeo Langford out with injuries, Udoka relied on journeyman Jabari Parker, and he was brilliant in his first-half stint.
He scored 11 points in his first 4-plus minutes, including a trio of 3-pointers. Parker had not made three 3-pointers in a game since November 2019 and was waived, then re-signed just before the season opener. It was Parker’s first significant minutes of the season and it was his best performance as a Celtic.
In the second half, Brown and Tatum combined for 37 of the Celtics’ 54 points but Schröder helped late with 9 overtime points in what Udoka said was a significant early-season win.
“We don’t love these overtime games but it builds toughness,” he said. “We just kept chipping away. We junked it up (defensively), did a few things trapping wise and sped them up. It builds character. It builds the team this time I said finish the deal in overtime. We really locked in defensively.”