Devonte' Graham stood near halfcourt, chatting it up with the guy he became close with during his rookie season two years ago.
A lengthy conversation was in order and and Graham took the moment to soak it all up, sharing a warmhearted embrace with Kemba Walker after the buzzer sounded in the Charlotte Hornets' nationally-televised matchup with Boston.
It seemed liked good times between the two and perhaps Walker's presence ignited a little something in Graham. He had easily his best offensive performance in a while, leading the Hornets with 24 points to go with nine assists in Charlotte's huge 125-108 victory at Spectrum Center on Sunday.
“My boy Kemba," Graham said. "He came back in the locker room with us after the game. Great guy, great to be around. It was always positive when he was here. Everybody loved him. The fans were cheering for him. He did so much for the city. He’s a brother and that relationship will never go away.”
Graham's impressive outing against Kemba & Co. marked just the second time he's topped 20 points since March 30, a span of 13 games. But coach James Borrego wasn't worried at all about Graham's scoring because of the other intangibles he provides for the Hornets.
"I think the obvious one is the playmaking," Borrego said. "He sets the table for us. He keeps us in rhythm offensively. Last game, I know he had his struggles. But he was 10 assists, zero turnovers and he did that for us last year as well. He continues to keep the ball hopping, and moving and in the right spots. He just settles us all the way around and there’s just a poise out there for our entire group. He’s just got that confidence about him, a poise about him, that no matter what, good things happen on both sides of the ball.
"I think it’s easier to look at what he does for us offensively, but defensively, he keeps us in coverages, he’s talking, he’s communicating. In our sets, he gets us to execute at a higher level. But I’d say more than anything, he continues to move the ball, share the ball, find the right mismatches or matchups that we’re looking for. Fantastic again tonight and when he’s making shots, that’s when he becomes even more special. We know that level, we’ve seen that level out of Devonte’. But no matter what, he’s always a positive for us on the floor.”
Although he does so many more things that go unnoticed at times, when Graham scores in similar fashion to what he did against Boston, the Hornets become all the more dangerous from the perimeter. It's almost like a chain reaction.
“He makes it tough for the other team to focus on just one or two guys," Terry Rozier said. "When you got our whole starting five in double digits and play the way we play, it’s going to be tough for any opponent we are going against. We need guys to step up. Devonte’ played his butt off today and it was great. He gave us a great boost.”
The Hornets also benefitted from another strong game by PJ Washington (22 points, 12 rebounds). He's been entrenched in the starting lineup these last two games and is shooting with extremely confidence, especially beyond the arc.
In five games since returning from a sprained ankle, Washington has nailed 55.5 percent of his attempts from 3-point range, going 21 of 35. He's firing away with confidence and is the main cog in the Hornets' small ball approach, logging most of his minutes at the '5.'
One issue, however, that constantly creeps in when the Hornets go small is their inability to close out defensive possessions. It reared its ugly head once more, allowing the Celtics to hang with them probably longer than they should have.
Yielding 11 offensive rebounds to Boston directly resulted in 18 second-chance points for the Celtics. Given the lineup featuring Washington at center and Bridges at power forward is something Borrego likes utilizing, finding ways to limit those extra possessions when they are undersized up front is going to be key in its sustainable effectiveness.
"We’ve just got to dig through it and find these rebounds," Borrego said. "It’s got to be a two-man rebound, sandwich rebounding, doing your work early. I like small ball. We are much more aggressive right now. Now, we’ve just got to dig out those rebounds. Overall, the five guys have just got to compete on the board. That’s the biggest thing. Physicality and competitiveness on the board. It’s not going to be pretty. We’re just going to have to dig them out somehow, some way. Collectively, all five guys have to be on the board when we are small.”
Quotable: -- "I wouldn’t say it’s a statement. It’s another game. But it's my first time beating them since leaving, so that always feels good. Going against the Celtics always gives you that playoff atmosphere, being physical and stuff like that. So whenever you can come out and beat a good organization like that, that’s always good.
“Whenever we beat Boston, I’m going to always be happy. I'm not with them no more. I’m with the Charlotte Hornets. -- Terry Rozier
Noteworthy: Sharing was caring for the Hornets. They recorded a season-high 39 assists on their 47 field goals. That was the most assists they've totaled in a game since setting the franchise record with 42 in a victory over Dallas on Feb. 11, 2014. They were extremely efficient in the first half, assisting on all by two of their 24 made attempts.
Up next: vs. Milwaukee, 7 p.m. Tuesday