Jared Sullinger outdid Al Jefferson with an immense fourth quarter, in which he scored nine of his 20 points, as the Celtics snapped a nine-game losing streak. Jefferson finished with 32 points and 10 rebounds after an equally huge final quarter, with 10 and five.
Avery Bradley led the Celtics (24-55) with 22 points and Phil Pressey notched a double-double with 10 points and a career-best 13 assists.
Five players scored in double figures for the Bobcats (40-39), who fell despite assisting 33 of their 44 baskets and forcing 20 turnovers.
Fourth quarter, :02.5, Celtics 106-103: This is interesting. After Jefferson hit a push shot to pull within one, the Celtics ran a stagnant offensive play out of their timeout.
They got a three attempt by Sullinger, who missed, but Pressey outjumped McRoberts and Douglas-Roberts to tip the ball to Bass for an offensive rebound.
After a pair of free throws by Sullinger, the Celtics are up by three. One last shot for Charlotte.
Fourth quarter, :35.9, Celtics 104-101: Jeff Green. Nope.
The Celtics put the ball in Green’s hands, and he fumbled it out of bounds.
Fourth quarter, :42.1, Celtics 104-101: Danger time for the Celtics — again. What else is new?
Green drove for a layup and Bradley drilled a three to apparently give Boston a cushion. But Ridnour and Jefferson responded with buckets to make it a three-point game.
Celtics ball, with a chance to potentially ice it with a score.
Fourth quarter, 2:44, Celtics 99-97: The Sully vs. Al Showdown has touched off. Sullinger hits another push-shot to give Boston the lead; Jefferson responds with one of his own. Sully drains a three to give Boston the lead.
For now, that holds, but neither of these guys look like they’re done.
Fourth quarter, 4:35, Celtics 94-92: Sully’s back, and he just hit a running hook to retake the lead for the Celtics, but it hasn’t been an easy run for Boston. The Bobcats used a 15-2 run to knot it up, with some superb defense and crisp offense, with almost everyone touching the ball on every possession.
Fourth quarter, 7:57, Celtics 90-81: It was only four points, but it’s enough for Stevens to want to nip it in the bud.
The Bobcats got four straight points, including an extremely easy layup by Gary Neal, and the Celtics ask for a quick timeout. We’ve seen this movie before. Stevens doesn’t like the ending, so he’s going to try to change it.
Fourth quarter, 9:10, Celtics 90-77: Jefferson just can’t seem to win in this building, literally. The last time he was at TD Garden, he earned his first win in Boston in his post-Celtics career. Now he’s back with a playoff-bound team and they trail by double digits in the fourth quarter.
End of third quarter, Celtics 84-75: Lottery balls be damned, the Celtics appear to want to win this game.
Pressey hit the deck after a loose ball, bouncing it ahead to Olynyk for the slowest of fast breaks. Olynyk laid the ball in — after an awful lot of steps — drawing Anthony Tolliver’s objection from Charlotte’s bench.
Tolliver was hit with a technical foul, but he wasn’t wrong.
The third quarter was a big one for Bass, who piled up nine points in the frame. Bass overtakes Bradley as the Celtics’ high scorer.
Third quarter, 7:46, Celtics 68-64: If Bradley and Pressey keep pouring it on from downtown, the Celtics just might run away with a victory here.
We don’t know about the victory part, but we have a feeling the hot shooting thing won’t maintain at this pace.
Bradley and Pressey each drained threes to extend Boston’s lead, forcing a timeout by the Bobcats. This game probably looked like an easy one on Charlotte’s schedule. They didn’t count on the Celtics making it so tough on them so far.
The one bit of bad news for the Celtics is that Sullinger headed to the locker room with an apparent ankle injury. We’ll keep you updated on his status.
Halftime, Celtics 57-55: Toward the end of the first half, the Celtics tried a novel new strategy: They actually tried to stop the Bobcats from scoring every once in a while.
Shocking, I know.
The Celtics held the Cats to just eight points over the final seven minutes to vault into the lead at halftime. Jared Sullinger gave Boston the edge with a one-handed putback off the glass.
Jefferson is still doing his work down low, but the Celtics committed themselves to slowing him down. They doubled him in the high post to force a steal, one of only three turnovers Charlotte has committed, and held him to just two points in the final minutes of the second quarter.
Bradley continues to lead the Celtics with 14 points, but Sully has come on, cracking double-digits with 11 points after his tip-in.
The Celtics are still lights-out from downtown, shooting 7-for-11 from three.
Second quarter, 5:00, Bobcats 47-46: Pressey is just showing off right now.
He dribbled his way into the lane, under the hoop and then dropped a bounce pass behind him to Brandon Bass for a dunk. The next time down, Pressey whipped a behind-the-back pass to Bradley out on the wing for a three.
Pressey has seven assists already. If he wants double digits, he’d be smart to just keep feeding Bradley. No. 0 has matched Jefferson’s game-high 14 points, shooting 5-for-8 from the field and a perfect 2-for-2 from three.
Second quarter, 7:26, Bobcats 47-38: Thanks to some red-hot 3-point shooting, the Celtics have kept this interesting so far. Their luck from deep might be running out.
The Celtics are 5-for-7 beyond the arc, helping them stick within single-digits despite scoring only six points in the paint. This is what the Cats do, though. They don’t defend the 3-point line exceptionally well and they don’t force a ton of turnovers.
They just don’t give up a lot of easy ones.
End of first quarter, Bobcats 29-28: It’s a close matchup after one, but that should not overshadow how poorly the Celtics have played on defense overall.
To say the Cats aren’t a good offensive team is being kind. But Jerryd Bayless, Jeff Green and Kelly Olynyk have been left in the dust on some pretty standard cuts by their men on defense.
Along with Jefferson scoring at will — has 14 points while hardly breaking a sweat — the Celtics’ inattentiveness on defense has enabled the Bobcats to look like a well-oiled scoring machine. They are shooting better than 54 percent from the field.
First quarter, 5:56, game tied 16-16: Big Al is doing what Big Al does — and even a few things he supposedly doesn’t do.
Jefferson is 3-for-4 early, showing off an array of low- and mid-post moves. He’s also distributed well from his sweet spot on the left block, hitting Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for an and-one layup and Gerald Henderson for what also should have been an and-one bucket.
The Celtics have kept pace thanks to Avery Bradley’s aggressive start. Bradley has a game-high nine points, dashing around screens and getting to his spots for pull-up jumpers.
6:54 p.m.: Rajon Rondo will not suit up, the Celtics announced a little more than a half-hour before tip-off. The reason given was a bruised left shin/calf.
Rondo warmed up with head athletic trainer Ed Lacerte and deemed the discomfort in his leg too much to play. Phil Pressey will take his spot in the starting five.
6:10 p.m.: After missing two games with right knee tendinitis, Kris Humphries will be back on the court for the Boston Celtics.
Hump will come off the bench, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said as part of his pregame media availability, with Jared Sullinger remaining with the starting five. The Charlotte Bobcats have some lineup juggling to do as well, as guard Kemba Walker will miss the game with a groin injury.
The projected starters appear below.
8 a.m. ET: Al Jefferson’s returns to Boston have almost always been bittersweet. Since the Celtics traded him away in 2007, they have won a championship, gone to two NBA Finals and come within a victory of reaching a third.
Meanwhile, Jefferson has generally watched the playoffs from home. This year is different.
Jefferson has led the scrappy Charlotte Bobcats (40-38) to the franchise’s second playoff berth and just his third trip to the postseason in his career. Now, he and the Bobcats are battling for the sixth seed — and the right to avoid powerhouse Miami or Indiana in the first round.
Now, the Celtics (23-55) are the ones on the outside looking in. They have lost nine in a row, including Wednesday’s unsightly collapse against the Atlanta Hawks. If they want to end this season on an up note, they are running out of time. This is the fourth-the-last game of the regular season — a season many of the players may just want to move on from and forget.
Join us for updates and analysis from TD Garden during the game, which tips off at 7:30 p.m.