Steve Clifford lost his cool and the Charlotte Hornets lost the home finale.
Clifford, who had never been tossed in 325 games as an NBA head coach, was ejected for drawing two technical fouls during the first half of the Hornets’ 121-114 loss to Boston on Saturday night at the Spectrum Center. After the second technical late in the second quarter, assistant coach Stephen Silas took over and the Hornets rallied, only to fall short.
“First of all, the first thing I had to do was apologize to the team for doing that,” Clifford said, declining to detail what led to his ejection. “Stephen Silas did a great job managing the game, riding Nic (Batum), getting Nic the ball in spots where he could get going and managing the game in a way that got our guys back in the game. So, that part was positive.”
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Batum’s team-high 31 points weren’t enough to undo Boston (51-29), which climbed to within a half-game of Cleveland for the Eastern Conference lead. The Celtics had to dig deep to turn back Charlotte (36-44) after the Hornets rallied to lead 104-97 on Marvin Williams’ 3-pointer with 6 minutes, 37 seconds left.
Boston guard Isaiah Thomas, who led all scorers with 32 points, scored on three consecutive possessions to put the Celtics ahead 116-111 with 1:21 left. He also hauled down a rebound and assisted on Avery Bradley’s 3-point dagger with 54 seconds left.
“Really, the story of our season has been we haven’t been able to defend in the fourth quarter,” Clifford said. “They had 29 (points) in the fourth, so that part of it has some symbolism.”
Three who mattered
Kemba Walker: The Hornets guard scored 23 points to move past Larry Johnson and Glen Rice for second-most regular-season points with 1,830. He also scored 20 or more for the 55th time this season, breaking Johnson’s franchise record.
Jeremy Lamb: Charlotte’s backup guard scored 17, most among all reserves.
Thomas: The Celtics guard scored 20-plus points for the 70th time this season, best in the Eastern Conference.
▪ Frank Kaminsky dished out a career-best seven assists, including five in the second half.
▪ Boston connected on 62.8 percent (27 of 43) of its shots in the first half. The Celtics finished at 51.7 percent (45 of 87).
▪ Boston swept the season series for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
▪ Walker became the 10th player in NBA history to connect on 240 or more 3-point shots in a season.
▪ The Celtics are 16-2 in games in which they made at least half their shots.
He said it
“We’re disappointed for sure. We wanted to be in a playoff spot like we did last year, but we weren’t that far away” – Batum