Celtics beat Hornets 121-114 despite blowing 19-point lead

Celtics beat Hornets 121-114 despite blowing 19-point lead

The Boston Celtics were on the verge of blowing a 19-point lead at Charlotte when Brad Stevens addressed his team during a time-out.

His message was succinct.

“You’re wrong if you don’t think there’ll be a game like this in the playoffs,” he told his team. “Find a way to win it.”

They did just that, closing out the game with a 24-10 run for a 121-114 Celtics win that eliminated the Hornets from the playoffs while Boston moved one step closer towards securing the No. 1 or 2 seed in the playoffs which will begin next weekend.

Boston (51-29), which swept the season series with Charlotte, did a lot of good things for most of the night, but seemed to have lost their way about midway through the third quarter after pulling ahead 77-58 which was their largest lead of the game.

From there, the Hornets (36-44) went on a 46-20 run that gave them their biggest lead of the game, 104-97.

Making the rally even more impressive was the fact that they did it primarily without their head coach Steve Clifford who was ejected in the second quarter with 1:09 to play in the half.

Isaiah Thomas led the way for the Celtics with 32 points and six assists while the Hornets were led by 31 points from Nicolas Batum. Also, former UConn star Kemba Walker chipped in 23 points for Charlotte along with eight assists.

In the first half, this game didn’t look as though it would involve Boston needing to make clutch plays in the closing moments.

After a strong finish to the first quarter and dominating play in the second, the Celtics didn’t play with the same edge in the third quarter.

And the Hornets made them pay.

Boston’s lead seemed on the verge of cracking the 20-point barrier early in the third, but a slew of missed shots, not-so-great defensive rotations and their Achilles heel – poor rebounding – all seemed to converge as Boston’s lead was down to 79-70 following an 8-0 run by Charlotte.

After a Marcus Smart steal, the Celtics pushed the lead back to double digits (81-70) following a Kelly Olynyk lay-up.

Charlotte got within seven points (81-74), only for Jonas Jerebko to make it a double-digit game with a 3-pointer.

It was that kind of quarter for the Celtics who found themselves ahead 92-86 going into the fourth.

And while the Hornets aren’t a playoff team, the effort the Celtics had to do in order to win on a night when they had a critical lull at both ends of the floor, is the kind of game they absolutely have to find a way to win in the postseason.

“We just believed in ourselves,” Thomas told CSN’s Abby Chin after the game. “We dug deep. We made plays on both ends of the floor.

Thomas added, “It was a must-win. Tonight, we needed to win this game. We found everything we had inside and we got it done.”

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Reserve-heavy Celtics keep at it, top Trail Blazers

NBC Sports Boston Photo

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Reserve-heavy Celtics keep at it, top Trail Blazers

1:13 - The Celtics came away with a 105-100 win in Portland on Friday night. Find out why Chris Mannix is calling this the best Celtics win of the season.

6:05 - Mannix discusses details about Kyrie Irving’s ‘minimally invasive’ procedure on his knee and what his level of concern is with A. Sherrod Blakely and Gary Tanguay.

10:03 - Michael Holley and Tom Curran discuss what NFL players, including Devin McCourty, are doing beyond the gridiron by being active in criminal justice reform discussions held at Harvard this week.



Morris getting it done for Celtics on both ends of the floor

Morris getting it done for Celtics on both ends of the floor

When you think about Marcus Morris these days, big-time scoring immediately comes to mind. 

But in Boston’s 105-100 comeback win over Portland, Morris’ contributions went beyond the game-high 30 points he dropped on the Blazers.

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“Coach (Brad Stevens) is doing a great job of getting me the ball in my spots and my teammates are finding me,” Morris told reporters after the win. “And I’m just coming through.”

He’s providing strong play and a tremendous presence at both ends of the floor which has been critical to the team navigating some choppy waters with a number of regular rotation players – namely Kyrie Irving – out with injuries.

“One thing is, he’s healthy,” said Boston’s Al Horford, referring to the sore knee that limited Morris earlier this season and at times forced him to miss games. “And the other is, he’s just more confident, he’s playing very assertive. He’s playing great right now, in a really good rhythm.”

Said Stevens: “That’s been him (Morris). As he’s continued to feel better; I think physically he’s felt as good as he’s felt. He’s comfortable in our system and we need him to score. If you’re a basketball player and your job is to score, that’s a pretty good job.”

And it’s one that even with all the injuries Boston has played through, few envisioned him being such an integral part of the offense. 

Morris’ calling card prior to arriving in Boston was his defense. 

But Morris has made it known that his focus on the floor is to be as complete a player as possible.

“I’m not trying to just limit myself to just being that scorer,” Morris said. “Also, on the defensive end I think I’m bringing it; my defense has gotten a lot better, especially my on-the-ball defense. I’m trying to be that all-around player and not just an offensive player … but I can score.”