fb-pixel Skip to main content

Celtics use late surge to beat Hornets

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (28 points) tried to fend off Hornets forward Al Jefferson on a first-half drive.John Tlumacki/Globe staff/Globe Staff

About an hour before the Celtics faced the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night, Isaiah Thomas sat in a chair facing his locker. He was wearing headphones, and he was intently watching game footage on an iPad.

Thomas was acquired from the Phoenix Suns just eight days ago, and he’s been tasked with learning his new team quickly. Although he comes off the bench, he has, in essence, become this team’s heartbeat. So most days, the Celtics’ staff has loaded his iPad with new footage, new material, and new information to consume.

One of the beauties of Thomas’s game, though, is its simplicity, so the adjustment period has been brief. On Friday, the 5-foot-9-inch guard blended his new knowledge with his old talents, and in the second half he mostly did as he pleased.


Thomas finished with a season-high 28 points and seven assists, helping the Celtics withstand a 25-1 run and erase a 16-point second-half deficit, turning an uncertain night into a comfortable 106-98 win. It was Boston’s third victory in a row, and the only loss since Thomas joined the team came in overtime against the Lakers, after Thomas was ejected.

“Coach just wants me to make plays, and the guys want me to make plays,” Thomas said. “[They’re] like, ‘We’re gonna follow you. Just make the right play.’ When your teammates are saying that, it’s unbelievable confidence. It makes it easy for me.”

Jonas Jerebko, who was acquired from the Detroit Pistons last week, added 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 assists. For the second consecutive game, Jerebko, a natural forward, played center as the Celtics made their defining push with a small, skilled lineup.

Afterward, the Hornets said they were expecting that smaller lineup. They tried a zone defense against it, they tried to get around it, but nothing really worked. It was a nuisance.


“That’s what they do,” Charlotte’s Gerald Henderson said. “They try to be disruptive.”

With 26 games left, Boston (23-33) is now in a virtual four-way tie for eighth place in the Eastern Conference, just percentage points behind the Indiana Pacers (24-34). After the trades of Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green, the injuries to Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger, and the general sense that the Celtics’ rebuild was in its infancy, this is not where many expected the Celtics to be.

But in one short week, Thomas has reshaped what many believed could be possible this season. The Celtics are winning and confident, and they are as curious as anyone to see where this new road leads.

“I’m sorry, I’ll apologize to Danny [Ainge] right now if [getting a lottery pick] is what they’re trying to do,” said forward Jae Crowder, who had 14 points and spent much of the night slowing Charlotte’s Al Jefferson. “But I’m a winner. You brought me here, and I like to win games.”

With 5:27 left in the second quarter, the Celtics held a 44-34 lead. But the rest of the period was a disaster, as Boston had five turnovers and scored just 1 point.

The struggles continued into the second half, as the Celtics ultimately went 9:16 without a field goal. By the time Avery Bradley hit a 22-foot jumper with 8:40 left in the third, the Hornets had uncorked their 25-1 run.

Charlotte took a 73-57 lead, its largest of the night, on a Mo Williams layup with 3:27 remaining.


“There’s a lot of game left, as we all know,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “We just kind of stayed the course and chipped away.”

In reality, it happened rather rapidly. And it happened with the ball in Thomas’s hands.

The point guard erupted for 15 points in fewer than five minutes, and his 3-pointer with 8:48 left in the game tied the score at 80.

With Jerebko at center and Crowder at power forward, Thomas took scoring chances when they were there and kicked the ball out when the Hornets collapsed.

A layup by Jerebko gave the Celtics an 89-88 lead — their first since the opening half — and they did not relinquish it.

Thomas finally went to the bench with 12.4 seconds left and the win salted away, and the Garden crowd voiced its appreciation.

“I think once we hit a few shots, we got a little confidence and we were just in attack mode the last 16 or 17 minutes of the game,” he said.

“We had the Hornets on their heels, and that’s where we wanted them.”

When Thomas was finished with his interview session, he went back to his locker, grabbed his iPad, and headed out into the frigid night.

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.