Where: TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
Officials: #7 Lauren Holtkamp, #28 Kevin Scott, #49 Tom Washington
“It’s just good to have him back,” said Horford, who had 18 points, eight rebounds, five assists and five blocked shots as Boston rallied from 12 points down and ended a three-game losing streak while sending the Hornets to their fourth straight loss.
“It felt good for the most part,” said Thomas, who went 9-for-20 from the floor and also had five assists and was the key to a 15-0 run that established control of the game. “I was a little rusty here and there but it felt it good just to be able to help my team and most importantly us to get a win.”
Walker, Charlotte’s leading scorer, missed the game because of a personal issue and will rejoin the team Saturday night in Atlanta. His team clearly missed him, shooting just 32.7 percent from the floor in the Hornets’ fourth straight loss.
“We didn’t make shots in the last five minutes,” said Charlotte’s Nicolas Batum, who had 22 point and 10 rebounds. “That’s maybe where we missed Kemba tonight.
“He’s one of the best closers in the league and this is when we missed him a lot tonight; that stretch the last five minutes.”
Thomas scored seven points during the big run that was aided by a four-point possession resulting from the flagrant-1 foul committed by Marco Belinelli on Thomas. Jae Crowder also scored seven points down the stretch as the Celtics won after trailing by 12 with 4:15 gone in the third quarter.
Belinelli offered to help Thomas up, but Boston’s Little Big Man said later, “I just got up on my own. If it’s not my teammates, then don’t help me up.”
Charlotte took 98 shots in the game but went just 8-for-30 from 3-point range.
Horford had a big third quarter, with eight points, three rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots. He finished with eight rebounds and five assists. But it was Thomas who led the way when it counted.
“Isaiah Thomas was the biggest part of it,” said Hornets coach Steve Clifford. “Frankly, again, the one thing we have to do, we have to make our layups and we have to make our open shots. Our game is a skill game.”
Before the game, he said his team’s defense had been terrible in the previous three games, the opposition shooting 48.8 percent from the floor, 44.4 from 3-point range. The Celtics were 43.6/32.1.
Crowder and Avery Bradley both scored 12 points, Bradley grabbing seven rebounds for the Celtics, who improved to 14-12 after going 1-3 without Thomas.
“I told him the other day on the phone, ‘on Friday, we’re going to need you to really give us a spark.”
Four other Hornets scored in double figures — Ramon Sessions (making his first start as a Hornet in place of Walker) with 13, Marvin Williams 12, Belinelli 11 and Jeremy Lamb 10.
The Hornets led by seven in the first quarter but were down a point before a 13-4 finish to the first half — back-to-back 3-pointers by Batum keying an 8-0 run over the final 2:24 to make it 50-41 at the break. The lead grew to 10 on the first possession of the second half and then to 12 as Batum scored six points in the first 4:15 of the second half.
Then came Boston’s run, and it took some 3 1/2 minutes for the home team to tie the game.
“We kept at it. We stayed confident, we stayed the course,” said Thomas. “And we came out on top.
“For the most part, we’re getting our swag back on (defense). We still have a ways to go, but we’re going to continue to grind it out. ”
Said Stevens: “I thought we really defended a lot of the night, but certainly in the second half. And then the ball finally started going down.”
NOTES: Charlotte coach Steve Clifford on his team’s defense, or lack of it, during the three-game losing streak the Hornets brought into Friday night’s game: “Worst three-game stretch since we’ve been here. The numbers are scary.” … The Celtics held a pregame ceremony honoring broadcaster Craig Sager, who lost his two-year battle with leukemia on Thursday. “There’s another inspiration that people can look up to in tough times,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. … The Celtics wore practice shirts with a wild design commemorating Sager’s fashion style. … Boston opens a three-game trip at Miami on Sunday.