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The ten or so contenders in the Eastern Conference remain tightly packed heading into Christmas, making opponents like the Charlotte Hornets of extra importance as the Celtics try to find any space they can for themselves in the playoff picture. Things got testy at times and while it ended up being one of the sloppier games the Celtics played in all season, their energy gave them the edge in a 102-89 win.

Jae Crowder had his third straight double-double behind a stupendous 19 point, 12 rebound performance while Kelly Olynyk shined in his second straight start in the place of Amir Johnson. Shooting 7-10 with 20 points, his third quarter slam will likely go down as one of the great moments of the whole year.

Early on the Celtics began spreading it out and jumped out to a 9-5 lead. Holding Charlotte to 2-8,  they again limited the opponent's efficiency throughout (36%). An outlet pass from Jared Sullinger to Olynyk set the tone for an extra-special night of hustle that they would need.

Boston soon gravitated towards their bench after setting the satisfying pace early behind 64% shooting. Hornets were just 6-14, 2-6 outside against the C's defensive rotations. They showed a willingness to let Charlotte chuck the three. Meanwhile both teams were turning it over back and forth.

David Lee would enter and rip off 6 straight points to end the frame with C’s up 29-21. That's how he's played for most of the year. Productive in short spurts. 7 points in 15 minutes per game this season.

Then came one of the most embarrassing quarters of NBA basketball you’ll see.

Lee was tagged with a flagrant-one as Frank Kaminsky drove in on him. He quickly made up for it, tracking down an offensive board that turned into an R.J. Hunter three-pointer as C's rode a 7-0 run.

Lee kept making things happen as Celtics led 40-30 midway through the 2nd. His contributions didn’t shine through but were very important; rebounding, passing, and scoring in bursts. Nine turnovers at that point looked to threaten, but Boston would only commit three more all game.

Meanwhile the Hornets were shooting a steady 50% from the field late in the 2nd but only had 10 points to show for it. Their turnovers mounted, soon nodding at 11 for both teams. The best defense C's played was preventing shots entirely. Charlotte would only attempt one three-pointer in the frame.

Crowder hit a jumper with 7:27 remaining and then the dark stretch began, with no Celtics buckets for the rest of the quarter.

Luckily the Hornets couldn’t find shot attempts themselves as Boston chucked up 11 misses in a row from that seven minute mark on. They were able to salvage seven points from the line though, and those proved important as Charlotte could only scrap together 12 themselves in the meantime.

Those little things; the energy plays, the extra few free throws and shots made proved crucial all game. At halftime the Celtics amazingly led 47-40 on the back of their hustle through tough stretches.

Then an 8-4 run was sparked right out of the blocks for Boston, up 10, as Isaiah led them into some important plays. A nice setup to Olynyk as he cut to the basket set the tone again. It was a fantastic game offensively for Kelly as a starter, but the best was yet to come.

Rolling ahead 67-50, we got what might be the highlight of the year from Olynyk. Crowder drove, dished out to Sullinger for three, then Kelly threw down the aggressive put-back jam all over Marvin Williams. The play sent the bench and commentators alike into a shocked frenzy that seemed to only further energize the entire team and flowed right in with a 12-3 C's run.

The Olynyk dunk of the year:



Boston finished the third ahead 74-62. Still holding Charlotte down (8-28) outside and despite a 10-2 run after going small to end the frame, they were in solid position to close this game out with another complete quarter.

All the little things came together to maintain the steady 10 point lead. Just a few more made shots, the extra three-pointer, efficiency at the line (23-26), forcing a few extra turnovers (17-14). C's did a nice job working around what was an all-out struggle of a game. Even limiting their turnovers after the 1st.

The Hornets would charge back late as a pair of Jeremy Lamb free throws brought the lead down to nine. Kaminsky persistently put the ball up inside and out, driving up to a career-high 23 on the game.

As the clock reached 5:00, Avery Bradley started to see his typical mid-rangers fall. Four straight points ensued, a very tough Crowder jumper fell with the shot clock expiring, and then Bradley found a pair of free throws. With that the threat was averted

Hornets would cut the lead down to six points with three minutes to go but Boston finished strong, responding with a Sullinger lay-in, two more Olynyk buckets, and a Bradley dunk to cap off their second straight win.



Photo Credit: Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

Follow Bobby Manning throughout the game on Twitter @RealBobManning

Bobby Manning 12/23/2015 09:45:00 PM Edit
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