BOSTON — No one in the NBA can touch the scorching Kyrie Irving right now.
Irving finished with 34 points on 13-of-18 shooting and five assists while Aron Baynes chipped in with a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds to power the Celtics past the Hornets, 134-106, Wednesday night at TD Garden for their fourth straight win after the All-Star break. Through three quarters the Celtics were shooting 62.1 percent from the field and 60 percent from 3-point range.
With the Raptors beating the Magic in Orlando, Boston (44-19) remains a half-game behind Toronto (43-17) in the race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Irving, who sat out the entire fourth quarter, finished 4-of-5 from 3-point range, giving him at least four threes in five straight games for the first time in his career. In wins over the Grizzlies and Hornets, Irving has 57 points on 21-of-31 shooting, with 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
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The superstar guard single-handedly owned the Hornets in the first quarter, draining six of his nine shots from the floor, including 2-of-3 from beyond the arc. Irving, two nights removed from a 21-point first half against Memphis, poured in 16 points in the opening quarter. Irving added three assists, three rebounds and a steal.
An omen of what was to come arrived in the game’s first 10 seconds, when Irving found a cutting Aron Baynes on a picture-perfect slash-and-dash to the basket.
Irving and Baynes connect for the slam to open up the game! pic.twitter.com/uWkkW7DXeX— Boston Celtics (@celtics) March 1, 2018
Neither team put up much resistance in the opening quarter as the Celtics took a 37-31 lead.
Irving added six more in the second quarter and finished the opening half with 24 points, four rebounds and four assists in 15 minutes.
For the first half, Irving had to share the spotlight. Kemba Walker did his best to keep the Hornets in the game, scoring 19 points in the first 24 minutes. He drilled his first seven shots from the field, including all four from 3-point range. His three with 4:27 left in the second quarter cut Boston’s lead to four, 51-47. Walker finished the first half with 21 points, hitting all eight shots while Dwight Howard was a dominant offensive force in the paint, finishing with 15 points.
The two teams went back and forth, again with little defense. Charlotte finished the first half shooting 25-of-47 for 53.2 percent. Boston was even hotter, converting 29-of-46 from the field for a blistering 63 percent and taking a 67-59 halftime lead.
Jaylen Brown had a steal and easy dunk early in the second half and then Irving drained another three with 9:37 left in the third for a 76-61 lead.
The steal and the slam by Jaylen! pic.twitter.com/pU86Kya05M— Boston Celtics (@celtics) March 1, 2018
Brown has a speaking engagement at Harvard on Thursday and Brad Stevens spoke before the game about how much he appreciated Brown’s willingness to grow as a player.
Al Horford’s wide-open right baseline three gave Boston an 84-65 advantage with 7:50 left. That only seemed to inspire Irving to further greatness. Irving had a multiple head-fake move before dropping a fallaway jumper over Walker as the shot clock expired.
Then his three put the Celtics up 91-67. Jaylen Brown’s three-point play with 4:45 left in the quarter expanded the lead to 27, 94-67, and Boston’s fourth straight post-All Star break win was in the bank. The Celtics outscored the Hornets 36-20 in the third quarter, making 12-of-20 from the field and 5-of-6 from beyond the arc.
The Celtics played the game without Daniel Theis, who suffered a hamstring strain during Monday’s win against Memphis. Brad Stevens said before the game that he didn’t expect it to be a long-term injury but also warned that it would be hard to say for sure with “muscular” injuries.
There was some buzz before the game when the Celtics social media channels posted a picture of the team’s picture on team photo day. There was Gordon Hayward in full uniform with no brace on his left ankle sitting in the front row. The Celtics tweeted earlier in the day that Hayward’s rehab is continuing.
The Celtics head on the road for a three-game road trip, starting Saturday night in Houston. Boston will also play in Chicago (Monday) and Minnesota (Thursday) before returning home on March 11 vs. Indiana.