On Sunday night, Isaiah Thomas called his team’s upcoming game against the Charlotte Hornets a must-win. On Monday night, Avery Bradley and the Celtics delivered on that promise.
Boston’s starting shooting guard erupted for a season-high 30 points, just two points short of his career-high, helping the Celtics post a convincing 116-104 over the Hornets at Time Warner Arena in Charlotte.
Evan Turner added 15 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists in the impressive offensive outing that featured six Celtics scoring in double figures. Kemba Walker had a team-high 28 points for the shorthanded Hornets in the setback, as the hosts played without starters Cody Zeller (shoulder) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (ankle).
Despite the high-scoring contest, Brad Stevens credited the team’s strong first-half defense for setting the tone in the win. The Hornets only scored 44 points in the first two quarters, which allowed the Celtics to build a double-digit lead.
“We emphasized getting back to a defensive identity today,” Stevens told reporters in Charlotte. “That was our only emphasis of the day. If we did that, we thought the offense would take care of itself. I thought Avery was terrific on both ends of the floor.”
Boston led by as many as 22 points in the second half thanks to Bradley’s sharpshooting (13 third quarter points). The Hornets cut the lead to six in the game’s final minute, but could get no closer than that.
The win pushed Boston back into a tie with the Brooklyn for the eighth seed in the East with just eight games remaining in the regular season. The loss puts the Hornets 1.5 games behind both teams in the crowded Eastern Conference playoff race. Boston’s next opponent, the Indiana Pacers, trail the Celtics by just one game in the standings. That contest will take place on Wednesday night at the TD Garden.