Former Celtic big man Al Jefferson dominated the Boston’s front line on Wednesday night, posting 23 points and 14 rebounds, and leading his Charlotte Hornets to a 96-87 victory at Time Warner Arena.
After a back-and-forth first half, the Hornets seized control of the game in the third quarter, outscoring the Celtics 33-21 to turn a five-point halftime deficit into a seven-point lead. Charlotte’s aggressiveness paid dividends in the frame, as the Hornets took 12 free throw attempts in the quarter.
Marcus Thornton scored 13 of his team-high 16 points in the fourth quarter, helping the visitors cut a nine-point Hornets lead to two points with just over four minutes remaining after a 9-2 run. That’s as close as the Celtics would come, and the Hornets finished the game with their own 9-2 run, holding Boston scoreless over the final four minutes until Rajon Rondo hit a meaningless layup with 15 seconds remaining.
Rondo had his third triple-double of the season, and 32nd of his career, with 12 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in the setback. Despite the impressive stat line, Rondo struggled in crunch time yet again, air-balling a three-pointer and turning the ball over with a traveling violation on two key possessions down the stretch.
Celtics radio play-by-play man Sean Grande pointed out an eye-opening stat during Rondo’s recent triple-doubles.
Rajon Rondo’s 32nd career triple-double.
Celtics records in Rondo triple-doubes…
First 22: 21-1
Last 9: 3-6
— Sean Grande (@SeanGrandePBP) December 11, 2014
Despite Rondo’s numbers, the Celtics lost this game due to their lack of aggressiveness as a team. Boston shot a season-low 10 free throw attempts on the night, which the Bobcats nearly tripled (29). In a game in which both teams shot poorly from the field (Boston 43 percent, Charlotte 41 percent), the free throw line proved to be the difference.
The Celtics will look to snap their two-game losing streak Friday night back at the TD Garden against the New York Knicks.