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4 takeaways as Celtics blow out Hornets in final preseason tuneup

Charlotte Hornets guard Nick Smith Jr. (8) defends against Charlotte Hornets center Mark Williams (5) in the first half of an NBA basketball preseason game, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Erik Verduzco)AP

The next time the Celtics take the basketball court, it’ll be the season opener. But first, the C’s got one final preseason tuneup in as they dominated the Hornets in a 127-99 win Thursday in Charlotte. The Celtics built up a double-digit lead in the first quarter and they never looked back for the rest of the game.

The lone Celtics regular to sit Thursday was Al Horford as he was out for rest. Otherwise, the Celtics were at full strength to wrap up their five-game preseason slate. Boston finished 4-1 in the preseason, including wins every time the regulars suited up.

All five starters finished in double-figures with Jaylen Brown leading the way with 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting. Jayson Tatum put up 11 points, seven assists and six rebounds as he filled up the stat sheet. Kristaps Porzingis had a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds.

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The Celtics open the regular season when they take on the Knicks next Wednesday in Madison Square Garden. Here are four takeaways from Boston’s win over Charlotte:

Starting lineup note: With Horford out, the C’s went with the same starting lineup as last game: Tatum, Brown, Porzingis, Derrick White and Jrue Holiday. That should come as no surprise. However, C’s coach Joe Mazzulla said pregame he’s not a huge fan about the attention that comes with the starting lineup. Naturally, fans and pundits are going to wonder who in the Celtics’ top-6 will be coming off the bench more often than not. But Mazzulla stressed the C’s will be all about sacrifice, so there shouldn’t be too much attention put on the starters.

Eye on the backup big: While many expected Luke Kornet to be that third big man behind Porzingis and Horford, he hasn’t inspired often throughout the preseason. So in an interesting move, Mazzulla went with Neemias Queta as the first big off the bench Thursday. The two-way signee has impressed throughout the preseason as he got some minutes with the starting group. Now, Mazzulla has warned not to read too deep into preseason minutes. But that’s something to be conscious about going forward, especially throughout the season. Queta finished with 12 points and seven rebounds (five offensive) in his 13 minutes Thursday.

Defense stingy: The Celtics have talked extensively about how they want to refocus on the defensive end, and that’s what they did Thursday. The Hornets mustered up just 99 points as the Celtics also recorded 22 steals (which eclipses the Celtics’ regular-season record). There were positive signs once again when it came to the Celtics’ defense. Porzingis was seemingly everywhere, altering shots even though it didn’t show up as blocks. White had three blocks and Holiday put up three steals as that defensive backcourt should cause opponents issues.

Last small stretch: While the Celtics don’t have anymore preseason games, there is a positive in that they still have a couple more practices. That allows them to get a little bit more work in before next Wednesday’s season opener. The practices have been tough for the C’s behind the scenes, and now they’ll get a few more days of that. Once it’s into the regular season, they won’t get as many days to practice. So the last few days of preseason are still important even without any games.