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Celtics 116, Hornets 104

Avery Bradley leads Celtics past Hornets in Charlotte

Evan Turner (11) drove against Charlotte Hornets' Kemba Walker (15) during the second half.Chuck Burton/AP
Celtics116
Hornets104

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — After Charlotte’s Marvin Williams stripped Tyler Zeller late in the third quarter Monday night, the Hornets blitzed toward an easy basket. The problem for the Hornets was that Marcus Smart decided to blitz that way, too.

“Most guys would have just held their head down and wouldn’t have sprinted back,” Smart said. “But I decided to get back.”

As Charlotte’s Kemba Walker rose for a layup, Avery Bradley jumped with him, and maybe that slowed him just enough for Smart, just enough for the defining moment of the Celtics’ 116-104 win.

Smart leapt and threw Walker’s shot away more than he blocked it. It went directly to Brandon Bass, who fired it to Bradley, who drained an open 3-pointer. The basket kicked off a 9-2 burst that gave the Celtics an 83-61 lead, their largest.

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Coach Brad Stevens said he wanted all five defenders to move as one unit, and he wanted to see effort. And no play epitomized that effort more than Smart’s acrobatic block, which looked like it had been downloaded from a video game.

It was defense that sparked offense. It was just what they had talked about. It was important.

“It raised the energy in the building,” Smart said. “All the bench went crazy and the guys on the court were energized and fired up and ready to play defense again.”

The win washed away any lingering frustration from Sunday night’s blowout loss against the Los Angeles Clippers. After that game, the Celtics vowed it would not affect them as they moved forward, and, clearly, it did not.

The Celtics (33-41) moved into a virtual tie for eighth place in the Eastern Conference with the Brooklyn Nets. Boston has played two more games than Brooklyn. But there is still so much to sort out in the coming weeks, and that’s why Stevens simply focuses on the next game, the next win.

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In a quiet locker room afterward, the Celtics’ businesslike approach was best summed up by a not-suitable-for-print acronym that had been scribbled on a large dry-erase board. It said, in essence, that it was time to get out of Charlotte and go home. That is where the next opportunity will present itself.

On Wednesday at TD Garden, Boston faces the Indiana Pacers, another team in this four-way slugfest for the No. 8 seed.

Yes, all four teams have losing records. Regardless, the drama surrounding the chase is escalating.

“We definitely have a chance,” Bradley said. “We just have to stay focused and follow our game plan.”

When a team spends most of the year scratching and clawing just to come close to a .500 record, sometimes each loss can feel like the end and each win can seem like the start of something big. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. And so it is with the Celtics.

“Whether we make it or not, we don’t want to limp into the playoffs and not have a rhythm,” guard Evan Turner said, “as opposed to coming into the playoffs and being confident and being consistent and being dangerous.”

Monday night, the Celtics were mostly confident and consistent and dangerous. Bradley led them with 30 points and 8 rebounds, and Turner added 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists.

Walker tallied 28 points and 12 assists to pace the Hornets, who were without injured starters Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zeller. But the Celtics have dealt with too many sprains, strains, and setbacks of their own to feel much sympathy.

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The Celtics starters have struggled to get their team off to quick starts recently, raising questions about whether Isaiah Thomas should enter the starting lineup.

But Stevens stuck with his regular group Monday, partly because he remained confident, and partly because he was reluctant to break up Boston’s second unit.

And in this game, the Celtics began with a burst. They made eight of their first nine shots and snatched a 17-8 lead.

Boston was ahead, 56-44, at halftime and used the run sparked by Smart’s block to take the 83-61 lead, its largest.

“We just couldn’t guard them,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said of the Celtics. “Frankly, we just take too many plays off.”

The Hornets slowly clawed back and made one final push in the last minute.

With 34.7 seconds left, a layup by Walker pulled Charlotte within 110-104 before Smart threw away the ensuing inbounds pass.

Walker lofted a 3-pointer from the right arc that could have cut the deficit to 3, but it rimmed out. The Celtics had their win, and it was time to get the heck out of Charlotte.

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