BOSTON — The transition defense Brad Stevens said needed to be “a lot better” before Thursday’s game was nearly nonexistent, but something ignited the Celtics’ offense at the end of the third quarter.

Boston struggled out of the gate and played from behind for most of its contest against the Kings. But after it took the lead at the end of the third, the C’s never looked back and defeated Sacramento 126-120 at TD Garden.

Buddy Hield led all scorers with 34 points, while Kyrie Irving paced the Celtics with 31 and notched his second career triple-double. Jaylen Brown (22), Marcus Morris Sr. (21), Jayson Tatum (15), Al Horford (12) and Gordon Hayward (10) also reached double figures.

With the win, the Celtics improved to 42-27, while the Kings slipped to 33-34

Here’s how it all went down:

Kyrie Irving
Marcus Smart
Jayson Tatum
Marcus Morris Sr.
Al Horford

The Celtics netted the first points of the game but the Kings quickly went on a 15-6 run that forced C’s head coach Brad Stevens to call a timeout with 6:34 left in the opening quarter. The Kings extended their lead to 17-6 before Tatum hit a layup thanks to Irving’s hustle for a loose ball to end the brief offensive drought.

Wide-open missed 3-pointers and a few Horford missed looks weren’t the worst of the first, as the defense struggled nearly all quarter. Aron Baynes tipped in a putback but immediately gave up a trey to Hield.

The Kings hit one from deep with five seconds remaining to take a 38-25 edge into the second quarter.

Harrison Barnes led all scorers after one with 11 points, while Irving paced the C’s with 10. Boston shot just 34.8 percent from the field while the Kings shot 64.8.

It certainly didn’t get better in the second for Boston, as the Kings quickly jumped out to a 42-27 lead before Stevens called a timeout in the first two minutes of the frame.

Boston battled back and cut Sacramento’s lead to 10, but more missed 3-pointers and turnovers stopped the home team from cutting it down more. Irving again gobbled up a loose ball and charged the rim before tossing it to Morris who completed the sequence with a dunk.

The Celtics trimmed the Kings’ edge to five with just under two minutes left in the half. They had a chance to come within one in the final minute but a missed Morris trey kept Boston at a 58-55 disadvantage. Irving missed one from distance as time expired and Boston went into halftime down 62-56.

Irving led the way with 19 first-half points, while Hield paced the Kings with 16.

The Celtics finally came alive in the third beginning with a Tatum reverse layup before taking their first lead since the opening quarter on a Morris bucket.

It didn’t last long, though, as the Kings responded in a big way and upped their lead to 11 after going on a 16-2 run over 2:17 led by Hield’s three 3-pointers to put Boston in an 80-67 hole.

Back-to-back treys from Irving and Brown electrified the Garden and brought the green within four with 2:13 left in the third quarter to get Boston back in the game. But Brown wasn’t done and drained two more shots from distance to give the C’s a 91-89 edge in the final minute of the quarter.

The Kings tied it with two free throws but Hayward put one in at the buzzer to give the C’s the 93-91 edge at the end of the third.

The C’s maintained the lead, but the Kings made it a two-point game with seven minutes left in the game and forced Stevens to call a timeout. It seemed to work as Boston pulled away to an eight-point lead with 4:45 remaining due in large part to Irving.

The Celtics’ offense proceeded to find life and went from a team struggling to find the net to a team that couldn’t miss. Brown, Morris and Irving were nearly unstoppable and Boston upped its lead to 12 with just over two minutes to play. While the Kings made things interesting down the stretch, Boston ultimately held on for the win.

OK, Jaylen.

The Celtics continue their homestand Saturday with a matinee matchup against the Atlanta Hawks. Tip-off from TD Garden is set for 12:30 p.m. ET.

Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images