After a pair of tough-to-swallow losses against playoff contenders, the Boston Celtics could not right the ship against the scuffling Charlotte Hornets, blowing an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter in a 124-117 loss at Spectrum Center.
Kemba Walker was a force, finishing with 36 points, nine assists and 11 rebounds, out-dueling Kyrie Irving in the fourth quarter.
Irving led the Celtics with 31 points. Jaylen Brown continued to impress while coming off the bench, going for 29 points. Marcus Morris (15), Jayson Tatum (12) and Terry Rozier (12) also finished in double figures.
With the loss, the Celtics fall to 43-30, while the Hornets move to 33-39 with the win.
Here’s how it all went down.
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Marcus Morris Sr.
C: Robert Williams III
After falling behind in the opening minutes, the Celtics finished the first on a tear thanks to a monster quarter from Irving, taking a 35-29 lead into the second.
Making the first start of his career, Robert Williams wasted little time getting involved on defense, sending the Hornets’ first shot of the game into the stands.
That didn’t slow the Hornets too much, as the hosts opened up a 14-6 lead after Miles Bridges hit a pair of free throws with 7:45 to play in the first. But the rest of the quarter belonged to Irving, who led Boston on a 9-0 tear over the next 2:01, capping the run with a pull-up trey to make it 15-14.
Irving stayed hot, finishing 7-for-9 from the floor and 2-for-3 from deep in the opening 12 to lead all players with 16 points.
INJURY BUG BITES AGAIN
The Celtics were unable to pull away in the second quarter, but a strong half shooting-wise helped the C’s take a 64-63 lead into the break.
Boston shot 53 percent from the floor in the first half, and was 11-for-19 from beyond the arc. But more bad news came on the injury front as the C’s lost Williams for the game due to a back injury.
Irving extended Boston’s lead to double figures with a bank shot to make it 56-46 with 4:50 to play in the half. But just when it looked like the C’s could build a big lead heading into the break, the Hornets came back with a 9-0 run, with Walker making it a 56-55 game after a three-point play with 2:41 to play in the half.
Irving led all players with 18 points at the half. Walker had 13 for the Hornets.
A last-minute run helped the Celtics take a 98-89 lead into the final quarter, outscoring the Hornets 34-26 in the third.
Three-point shots from Tatum and Morris saw the Celts open up a 84-76 lead with 6:04 to play in the third. But Charlotte answered with triples from Walker and Malik Monk to narrow the game to 84-82 with 4:06 remaining.
Boston went on an important 8-0 in the final minute of the quarter, sparked by Irving.
Irving then kicked out to Morris for a corner three to make it 98-89 with 37.9 seconds remaining.
CELTICS BLOW IT
Boston built up an 18-point lead in the fourth, only to see it come crashing down in the closing minutes.
At first, the Celtics finally were able to create some separation from the Hornets in the fourth, with Tatum hitting a trey to make it an 11-point game.
Another triple from Brown made it 110-94 with 8:55 to play. But it did not last.
Charlotte climbed back within single digits with a Marvin Williams trey to make it 112-105 with 4:28 to play. Walker hit a pull-up three to make it 115-11 with 2:55 left. Walker put the Hornets up 118-117 with a fadeaway corner three with 1:19 remaining.
Williams extended the lead to 120-117 at the line with 41.2 seconds left after an Irving turnover.
The Celtics were unable to convert a number of chances to tie the game, but Williams made it a five-point game at the line with 14 seconds left, allowing the Hornets pulled off the improbable comeback, closing the game on a 30-5 run.
PLAY OF THE GAME
The Celtics return home for the second leg of a back-to-back against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday. Tip-off from TD Garden is slated for 7:30 p.m. ET.
Thumbnail photo via Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports Images