The Celtics nearly collapsed in the fourth quarter once again, but instead, they responded to earn a signature 113-107 win over the Hornets on Wednesday at TD Garden.
They entered 4-12 in games decided by five points or fewer. Though this result didn’t technically count toward that statistic, it held the same weight.
Josh Richardson poured in 23 points, including six 3s, off the bench to lead the way. Marcus Smart added 22, Jayson Tatum chipped in 19 points and nine assists and Robert Williams had 10 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks and 2 steals. LaMelo Ball racked up 38 for the Hornets, but the Celtics delivered in the clutch to cement one of their biggest victories of the season.
“It’s huge,” Richardson said. “From here on out, every win is huge. I think our chemistry has been good lately, and just how we’ve been playing. Attention to detail has been big.”
The Celtics have now won five of six and 10 of 14, and they have the best defensive rating in the NBA since Christmas Day.
“Guys are taking the right approach, coming in the right way, and I think you’ve seen that over the last 15 or so games,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said.
The Celtics have won 10 of their last 14 games.— StatMuse (@statmuse) February 3, 2022
They have the best defensive rating and FG% defense in the NBA since Christmas. pic.twitter.com/hi0hNfTRVE
The Celtics were in command the bulk of the night, yet a Hornets surge late in the game still seemed inevitable. Charlotte used a 16-5 run capped by a Terry Rozier 3-pointer to tie the game at 107 with 1:02 remaining, but Tatum earned two free throws, Williams swatted a P.J. Washington 3, Smart added two free throws and Williams sealed it with a dunk.
Before the late-game chaos, it was a game that exemplified what’s worked well for the Celtics of late. They finished the night with 31 assists, moving to 5-1 when they total 30 or more. Boston turned it over 13 times in the first half compared to just five after the break.
The Celtics built a 27-22 edge through one, assisting on nine of their 11 field goals and attacking the rim regularly. Williams finished with three dunks himself in the quarter, racking up 6 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals.
Richardson came out on fire to start the second, burying three 3-pointers in a span of 1 minute, 6 seconds to fuel a 9-2 run of his own that gave the Celtics a 36-24 edge. The Hornets responded with an 8-2 flurry and took the lead midway through the half, and it was relatively even from there.
Smart did a bit of everything in the second quarter, finishing in traffic multiple times, swatting Kelly Oubre before igniting the crowd and taking a charge to provide some much-needed energy as the Hornets chipped away. Without Smart, it’s likely the Celtics would have been behind heading into halftime.
Instead, they took a 54-53 lead into the break, led by Tatum and Richardson with 11 apiece. Ball had 17 in the half for the Hornets, who hit just 25 percent of their 3s.
Boston shot 53.7 percent from the floor but turned it over 13 times – including five from Jaylen Brown – and allowed Charlotte to get to the line 15 times. Outside of the turnovers, it was a relatively crisp half from the Celtics, but their sloppiness with the ball allowed the Hornets to get back into the game.
The Celtics started the second half on a 16-7 spurt, but the Hornets responded with a 10-0 answer to tie it at 70. Boston claimed an 88-78 edge through three – turning it over just twice in the quarter – but Ball continued to keep the Hornets afloat with a series of 3s and sweet dimes.
He nearly carried them to a comeback win, but the Celtics found a way with the game on the line. Many of the trends that have haunted Boston all season surfaced briefly but disappeared when it mattered most.
“Every time they cut it down close enough, I think we made big plays on both ends,” Udoka said. “Guys hit big shots, and we fought through the adversity.”