Keeping Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas away from the rim is next to impossible.
So in the fourth quarter, when Thomas was power-driving to the basket, Charlotte Hornets guard-forward Marco Belinelli was a bit too forceful in his contact. Belinelli’s foul was upgraded to a flagrant, which catapulted the Celtics to a 96-88 victory Friday at TD Garden.
The Hornets have lost all four games on this five-game road trip. Their last chance for a victory is Saturday in Atlanta against the Hawks.
Nic Batum scored a team-high 22 points for the Hornets. Thomas led the Celtics in scoring with 28.
Three who mattered
Batum: With Kemba Walker out, Batum more aggressively looked for his own shot Friday.
Al Horford: His shooting range and shot-blocking were big for the Celtics Friday.
Thomas: Staying in front of him when he’s attacking off the dribble is almost impossible.
▪ It was clear in the pre-game media availability that Hornets coach Steve Clifford hasn’t gotten over his team’s recent defensive deficiencies. Clifford said the last three games have been the team’s worst defensively since he took over as coach and the accompanying statistics “are scary.”
▪ Asked about the physicality issue, Clifford said it’s not that his players can’t play that way, but rather that they choose not to.
▪ The Hornets played without point guard Kemba Walker, who had an excused absence to deal with a personal situation. Walker will rejoin the team in Atlanta to play against the Hawks Saturday night.
▪ Clifford was asked pre-game if Marco Belinelli might get some of Walker’s normal minutes. Clifford said Belinelli can play some point guard, but he wouldn’t experiment with that Friday, since the Celtics are an elite team at ball pressure.
▪ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist swished a 3-pointer in the first quarter. It was his first made 3 in five tries this season and the seventh made 3-pointer of his 4-plus season NBA career.
▪ Spencer Hawes was the Hornets’ first center off the bench, rather than Roy Hibbert. That was probably in reaction to the Boston centers’ shooting range. Hawes is more comfortable defending on the perimeter than Hibbert.
▪ The Celtics wore “Sager Strong” T-shirts to mark the passing of TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager, who succumbed to cancer Thursday.
▪ Jeremy Lamb had a strong first half, with 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
C OFFENSE: They missed a number of open shots, particularly in the third quarter.
B+ DEFENSE: Thomas’s penetration was big, but the Hornets did a good job of containing shooting guard Avery Bradley.
B- COACHING: There was some improvement in the areas of defense and rebounding
Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell