When Kyrie Irving pulled down a rebound with 1 minute, 45 seconds left in the Celtics’ game against the Kings on Thursday, there was a roar from the Garden crowd. The game was not especially close at that point, but the fans here could read the scoreboard, which showed that Irving had registered his first triple-double as a Celtic, and just the second of his career.
Irving finished with 31 points, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds, as Boston used several strong rallies to come back from a pair of large deficits and take a 126-120 win. The Celtics trailed by 17 points in the second quarter, erased that deficit, and then found themselves behind by 13 in the third quarter before wiping that one away, too.
By game’s end, most of the fans were standing, and the Celtics were smiling, and the good feelings from the team’s Western Conference road trip appeared to last for at least one more day.
“I feel like we have the talent in this locker room to go and get it,” Irving said, “and we did.”
Marcus Morris added 21 points and 13 rebounds for the Celtics, and Jaylen Brown had 22 points, including three 3-pointers during a powerful third-quarter spree. Buddy Hield had 34 points to pace the Kings, who lost despite shooting 50.5 percent from the field. Sacramento made just 13 of 23 foul shots.
With the win, the fifth-place Celtics pulled within 1½ games of the fourth-place 76ers and remained two games behind the third-place Pacers, who overcame a 19-point second-half deficit to grab an impressive win over the Thunder on Thursday.
The Celtics have 13 games remaining, including one against Philadelphia and two against Indiana. But coach Brad Stevens has insisted in recent weeks that his primary concern is rhythm, not seeding. And this game provided another step in the right direction on that front.
“[The Kings’] run, I thought, was really impressive, and we had to answer,” Stevens said. “And I thought after the six-minute mark of that [third] quarter, we were really dialed in.”
Teams tend to struggle when playing for the first time at home after a lengthy road trip — the Celtics caught the Warriors in this predicament when they won at Golden State on March 5. But Stevens was pleased with the way his team escaped its fog before it was too late.
The Celtics won despite allowing a season-high 38 points in the first quarter and allowing their opponent to make more than half of its shots. Boston was not especially dominant from the 3-point line (32.1 percent) or the foul line (73.1 percent), but it consistently looked to attack inside and finished with 64 points in the paint despite several missed layups.
The Celtics were quite sluggish at the start. Twice in the first half, Stevens called a timeout with his team in disarray, only to have it commit a turnover on the first play after that. Boston missed all six of its first-quarter 3-pointers while the Kings shot 70 percent from the field and took a 38-25 lead to the second.
The second quarter did not have a much more promising start. Boston continued to fire wayward 3-pointers, and an alley-oop dunk by Marvin Bagley, who missed the game between these teams earlier this month, gave the Kings their largest lead, 44-27.
Then the Celtics seemed to realize that they could get to the rim with little resistance, and they also started to make their shots when they got there. They closed within 62-56 at halftime, an encouraging development considering they were just 1 for 12 on 3-pointers.
“We responded like a good team is supposed to,” Morris said.
It appeared the Celtics were going to seize control when they started the half with a 9-1 run to take a 65-64 lead. But the Kings called timeout and then needed just 2:17 to blitz Boston with a 16-2 run and take an 80-67 lead.
Sacramento still led by 12 points with just over three minutes left in the third when the Celtics responded with a 3-point flurry of their own. While Sacramento’s was sparked by the sharpshooting Hield, Boston’s was keyed by Brown, who entered the night shooting just 31.9 percent from beyond the arc.
In this stretch the forward hit three of them over a span of 1:20, igniting Boston’s 16-2 flurry that gave it a 93-91 lead at the start of the fourth.
“If we can get that play in the playoffs and the rest of the regular season,” Morris said of Brown, “it’s going to be tough to stop us.”
Boston stretched its lead to 7 points before Sacramento clawed back and pulled within 104-103 on a Willie Cauley-Stein dunk midway through the period. But then the Celtics put the Kings away with one final and emphatic 14-2 run, ensuring that they would not have to overcome any more deficits on this night.
“We ended up winning the game,” Brown said. “But we have to clean up some of the habits that we have now in terms of going forward because you don’t want to get down 17.”
More photos from the Celtics’ win