Celtics forward Jayson Tatum reacts after a play in the first half of Boston’s 121-118 loss in overtime to the Hornets on Monday night in Charlotte, N.C. Erik Verduzco/Associated Press

As their winning streak reached six games, the Celtics’ flaws were masked by victories. Wins in Toronto and Memphis over the weekend were marred by poor efforts, but the Celtics kept finding ways to win. Even after winning Sunday night against the Grizzlies, Coach Joe Mazzulla said the Celtics shouldn’t have won.

A night later, the Celtics got the outcome they deserved.

Through the first 13 games of this season, the Celtics seemed to solve the crunch-time woes that killed them last season. They took a big step back Monday night. Even without Derrick White, the Celtics had more than enough to close out the lowly Hornets but their bad habits resurfaced in a brutal 121-118 overtime loss.

Jayson Tatum scored 45 points and Payton Pritchard added 21 in a big effort off the bench in the absence of White, but the Celtics’ recent run of uninspired play finally came back to haunt them. The Celtics led by as many as 18 in the first half but let the Hornets stick around. Then they blew a nine-point lead over the final two minutes of regulation that was a culmination of the lazy play that has plagued them over the last three games.

“We had 29 points in transition given up, (they had) 20 second-chance points, 17 offensive rebounds, that’s not a recipe for success no matter who you’re playing, especially these guys,” Mazzulla told reporters in Charlotte. “They don’t stop playing.”

LaMelo Ball scored 36 points with nine rebounds and eight assists to lead the undermanned and seemingly overmatched Hornets, who made enough plays to linger throughout the night before striking the Celtics in crunch time.


The Celtics led 100-89 and seemed to be in firm control after Jrue Holiday’s 3-pointer with 2:20 remaining. Then they let their foot off the gas. Mark Williams ignited the Hornets’ surge with a second-chance tip-in layup with 1:59 left before the Celtics began misfiring offensively. Ball hit a 3-pointer to make it 108-104 and then after two more Celtics misses, Williams’ second-chance layup cut Boston’s lead to two with 34 seconds remaining.

On the next possession, Holiday was fouled at the rim by Ball with 11 seconds left and went to the free-throw line with a chance to make it a two-possession game. Holiday, who committed seven turnovers in the loss, missed both free throws. They were Boston’s first two free throw misses in crunch time this season.

On the next possession, Ball’s driving layup tied the game and ultimately forced overtime after Sam Hauser’s long 3-point attempt missed.

The Celtics had four leads in overtime, including Tatum’s 3-pointer with 58 seconds left. But on the next possession, the Celtics lost Gordon Hayward cutting for a game-tying dunk. Jaylen Brown then missed a 3-pointer, and on the next Hornets possession, Miles Bridges drilled a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer to give them a 119-116 lead.

The Celtics called timeout and got a gift as Tatum was fouled by Hayward shooting a 3-pointer. He went to the line with a chance to tie the game, but after making the first two, he missed the third. Bridges pulled down the rebound and was fouled with 1.7 seconds left.

There was some controversy. It appeared Bridges was fouled with about 3.2 seconds remaining, but the clock kept ticking. The clock was not checked by the officiating crew. The Hornets inbounded the ball again because the Celtics had a foul to give and Hayward was fouled with 0.8 seconds left, which gave Boston little time to make a play after his free throws pushed Charlotte’s lead to 121-118. Bridges intercepted the final inbounds pass to clinch the Hornets’ victory, and gave the Celtics more lessons to learn as they headed home from a road trip that gave them plenty.

“You just have to take something from each game, and so this was our first overtime game where it was the first time we blew a lead and we have to go back and understand why we did it, and it comes from taking plays off and not finishing possessions,” Mazzulla said.

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