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Fast Break: Isaiah Thomas returns, leads C’s past Hornets

12.16.16 at 10:57 pm ET
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Dec 16, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) drives the ball defended by Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller (40) in the second half at TD Garden. The Celtics defeated Charlotte 96-88. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas battles through Cody Zeller on his way to the basket in the second half Friday night at TD Garden. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

He’s back.

In Isaiah Thomas’ return, the Celtics snapped a 3-game losing streak and defeated the Charlotte Hornets 96-88. The 5-foot-9 point guard led all scorers with 26 points on 9-of-20 shooting and 6-of-7 free throws. 

The starters got it done, as four of five scored in double figures. Al Horford had a complete game, amassing 18 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and a game-high 5 blocks, while Jae Crowder poured in 12 points, including going 2-of-5 from 3-point range, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Jonas Jerebko, who has quietly become the team’s best scorer off the bench, scored 9 points on 4-of-8 shooting and was a game-high plus-15.

And while the Hornets were missing Kemba Walker, who is arguably their best player, due to personal reasons, the Celtics did exactly what they had to do: beat a team that was already down coming in.

The game was a tale of two halves. The Celtics looked uninspired in the first period, falling behind by 12 in the middle of the second quarter and going into the half down 50-41.

I don’t know what was said at the half, but I wish I did. Falling behind by 12 once again, the C’s embarked on a 16-2 run in the latter half of the third quarter. The game remained close, until the Celtics went on another run late in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Hornets 15-0 and essentially sealing the win.

“I thought we really defended a lot of the night, but certainly in the second half,” Brad Stevens said. “And then the ball finally started going down. I thought that this was predictably going to be an extremely tough game, because of the fact that we’re playing a really good team who is, like us, coming off a long road swing and then we’re both, you know, hungry to get a win..  And so you knew it was going to be exceptionally hard. And I give our guys a lot of credit; between all the travel and coming back and popping right back up and playing, now getting right back on a plane tomorrow – I’m really happy with that effort today.  That was great effort.”

As for Horford’s monster night of 18 points, eight rebounds, five blocks and 2 steals?

“He was good.  We need him to be really good,” Stevens added. “They went small at the end of the first half, and we struggled a little bit with that, and then we tried to play small and skilled most of the second half, with the exception of a little few minutes with Kelly (Olynyk) and Amir (Johnson). But, you know, we needed everybody to play well there, in the second half.”

 Stevens played Thomas at the start of the fourth quarter, calling on his fresh legs. 

“I just felt like I’ve seen too many games where you make a come-back and then the other team takes control and goes out to a lead,” Stevens said. “And we’ve actually seen that in our games at Charlotte, where we’ve lost the lead and then got it back and pulled away, and I just thought those first four minutes in the second quarter were really important.  And he was – he hadn’t been doing anything all week. 

“In all sincerity, like, he’s been working really hard to get back.  You know, but the rest of those guys have been all over the place, and now we needed – I told him the other day on the phone, “When, on Friday, we’re going to need to really give us a spark.”

The runs accentuated Thomas’ importance, as his aggressiveness on both ends of the floor opened lanes, caused turnovers and led to wide-open threes.

More times than not, the Celtics win ugly, and they did it again Friday.

 

For a complete box score, click here.

Stud of the night: Isaiah Thomas

While you could’ve chosen the C’s defense, as it was their best defensive performance since January of 2013 in terms of opponents field goal percentage, Thomas did everything the Celtics needed, scoring 26 points, dishing out 5 assists and grabbing 3 rebounds. He’s the Celtics’ closer, and he got the job done.

Dud of the night: The Hornets second-half shooting

As I alluded to before, the Hornets were dreadful shooting-wise. They scored a meager 38 points in the second half, shooting about 27 percent from the field. They shot 32.7 percent from the field and scored 88 points overall, both season-lows.  

When the game was won: C’s 15-0 run in fourth quarter

Down 79-77, the Celtics took a stranglehold of the game, scoring 15 unanswered points and taking a 92-79 lead with just over three minutes left in the game. The run was capped off by two free throws from (who else?) Isaiah Thomas.

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