Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford didn’t take questions following his team’s 104-98 home loss to the Boston Celtics, but he really didn’t need to.
His body language and the words in his opening statement said everything you needed to know about the second half Saturday night at Spectrum Center.
"I was really, really disappointed in the defense in the second half," Clifford said. "When you play defense, there’s a way to do it. You have the right stance, you have the right talk, you have the right organization. That gives you a chance.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"When guys start making up their own stuff, you’ve got no shot against a good team. When things get tougher, you have to do what you’re supposed to do, and that’s not what we did."
Here’s how I interpret that: In going 2-0 with road victories over the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat, the Hornets played defense with precision and intensity. If they were great in those two games on defense, then they were just good, if not mediocre, Saturday.
Part of the deal in the Hornets playing great defense is they have no alternative. ... This group isn’t nearly as talented and deep offensively as a season ago.
The second-half statistics were revealing. The Celtics scored 60 points, shooting 51 percent from the field and 54 percent from 3-point range (7-of-13). So even while the Hornets played better offensively in the second half (51 percent from the field and 41 percent from 3-point range), they weren’t going to keep pace with a Boston squad that simply has more firepower.
Part of the deal in the Hornets playing great defense is they have no alternative. With Jeremy Lin, Al Jefferson and Courtney Lee all leaving over the summer in free-agency, this group isn’t nearly as talented and deep offensively as a season ago.
So it’s either defend in a smart and fierce fashion, or fail. I wouldn’t call a six-point home loss to one of the Eastern Conference’s betterteams "failure," but something troubled Clifford enough that he wanted out of that interview room quickly.
Clifford is as transparent and media-friendly as any coach I’ve covered. He was peeved at his team and maybe was concerned with saying the wrong thing.
Who exactly did he feel was messing up defensively? I’m not sure. But I’m sure it wasn’t power forward Marvin Williams.
I thought Williams played one of his best defensive games Saturday, guarding Celtics big man Al Horford most of the time. Horford is an unorthodox center in that he is just as likely to beat you from the 3-point line as in the lane.
When guys start making up their own stuff, you’ve got no shot against a good team.
So it was a wise decision by Clifford to have Williams chase Horford all over the court, rather than ask Cody Zeller or Spencer Hawes to do that on a regular basis. (Roy Hibbert, who started the Hornets’ first two games at center, sat out Saturday with soreness in his right knee).
The Celtics made 15 3s, eight of those by shooting guard Avery Bradley, who scored 31 points. I did think there were times when Hornets guards were trying to go under picks, rather than fight over the top of them. When an opposing guard is shooting that well from 3-point range, a team is just asking to be beaten doing that.
But remember this: Clifford’s defenses tend to give up some open 3s because his first priority is defending the lane. Still, when one guy is so thoroughly dominating from 3-point range, a problem must be addressed.
Clifford politely complimented Bradley’s performance, then he got back to the Hornets’ issue Saturday.
"That was disappointing," Clifford said of players going off script defensively, "and it will be cleaned up."