J-Rich, Smart Lead Scoring Charge in Win Over Hornets

BOSTON – After allowing Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to go off for a combined 71 points on Oct. 25, the Charlotte Hornets, in a rematch Wednesday night, decided to load up their defense on the Jays to suppress their scoring. In doing so, it provided an opportunity for the wingmates to display their decision-making abilities, while also allowing their supporting cast to step up as scorers.

In both cases, the Celtics delivered, as the Jays dished out a combined 15 assists, which in turn enabled Josh Richardson and Marcus Smart to combine for 45 points in a 113-107 win at TD Garden.

Smart, who finished with 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field said the Hornets “did a really good job on the Jays in certain aspects of that game, forcing the ball into their hands and making other guys make shots such as me, J-Rich, Grant (Williams), Al (Horford), Rob Williams, and everybody else out on the court. And we did that. We’ve gotta continue to do it and continue to help the Jays out.”

Charlotte deserves credit for holding both Tatum and Brown under 20 points; however, the Jays also deserve credit for the way in which they worked around such suppression. Despite being constantly double-teamed and forced to make quick decisions, Tatum and Brown were both still able to find their open teammates to knock down shots.

Their excellent playmaking didn't surprise Smart, especially considering how they're both coming off of their best assist month of the season. Tatum averaged 4.6 dimes per game in January, while Brown dished out an average of 3.5. Part of that is because teams are starting to load up on them more just like Charlotte did Wednesday night.

“The game plan that everybody has is to make the Jays pass the ball,” said Smart. “They have to do a good job at it, and they’ve been doing a phenomenal job at it. By doing that, it’s just going to open the floor for them down the stretch when it’s time to take over and it makes it hard for defenses to load up when you have guys shooting the ball, making shots, and making the right play.”

Richardson was the most impressive shot-maker of the night for Boston, as he came in off the bench and dropped a team-high 23 points while shooting a season-best 6-of-8 from 3-point range. Three of those triples came during a 66-second span at the start of the second quarter, which helped the Celtics double their lead from six points to 12.

Ironically, the veteran wing stated at shootaround Wednesday morning that his confidence was “at a 10” heading into their matchup against the Hornets. And he sure backed up his words later that night, as he personally outscored Charlotte’s bench by four points.

“Once I saw a couple go in, it was like, ‘Ah OK, it's about to be a long night for somebody.’ My teammates just did a good job of moving the ball, finding the open guy, and guys are just knocking shots down."

Grant Williams also had a strong shooting night, as he contributed 12 points while knocking down 3-of-6 from deep.

Meanwhile, Tatum finished with 19 points, six rebounds, and nine assists, and Brown chipped in with 15 points, six rebounds, and six assists. They both came alive in the scoring department down the stretch, hitting a couple of big shots late in the fourth quarter to help hold off a late Hornets rally. Though their teammates were just as clutch, as five different Celtics scored during the final three-plus minutes of the game.

“Other guys contributing, that’s what it’s going to take at certain times,” said head coach Ime Udoka. “We tell [Brown and Tatum], regardless of what your teammates do, make the right play and trust your guys.”

That’s exactly what the Jays did Wednesday night, and their guys backed them up in the scoring department while leading the Celtics to a win over a hot Hornets team.

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