NBA Teams
Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer 10d

Another comeback for short-handed Celtics

NBA, Boston Celtics

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics' streak was over. That seemed evident -- if not the moment Kyrie Irving hit the floor clutching his bloodied face, then by later in the first quarter when the Charlotte Hornets had pushed their lead to double digits and Irving had been ruled out for the remainder of Friday's game.

The Celtics were already playing without Gordon Hayward and Al Horford. With Kyrie Irving joining the infirmary, that was $76.2 million worth of star power unavailable for coach Brad Stevens. In fact, Boston's remaining 12-man roster was comprised of seven rookies, including one emergency G League call-up.

The Celtics' titillating streak couldn't survive this. Not when the only three players on Boston's roster returning from last season (Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier) combined to shoot 21.4 percent from the floor on Friday night.

But there was Stevens in Boston's fourth-quarter huddle, imploring his players to focus on getting the next stop. Even when Boston was down double digits, he told his young players that TD Garden would roar when the Celtics made their comeback.

Sure enough, the Celtics charged. Riding one lineup that featured four players who didn't even play in the NBA last season, Boston limited Charlotte to three points over the first nine minutes of the fourth quarter and slowly crept back into the game. Second-year guard Brown overcame a rough shooting night (3-of-14 FGs) to drop a finger roll with 5 minutes, 29 seconds to play as Boston surged ahead for good en route to an 90-87 triumph.

The streak, improbably, continues.

"I remember during a timeout and Coach had said, 'We're going to win this game and this place is going to go crazy," Rozier said. "We were definitely down. We were down probably like 15. [Stevens] knew that we were going to win the game and the crowd was going to feed into it. It was going to be crazy, and that's exactly what happened."

Marcus Morris, whose defense on Kemba Walker forced a key late-game miss with Charlotte looking to pull ahead, said more simply: "Brad Stevens -- he's a guru."

Stevens didn't suggest he made any sort of bold proclamation about winning the game, but he did implore his young roster to simply chip away.

"Start of the fourth, I actually said, 'Hey, you guys, most of you haven't been here before, that are playing right now, in a game like this," Stevens said. "But if you get some stops and string a few buckets together, this place is going to get fun."

Shane Larkin, signed for deep depth after spending last season overseas, scored a team-high 16 points over 17:20. Larkin was plus-15 during his floor time and made 5 of 8 shots, including step-back jumper right before Brown's go-ahead bucket.

Rookie Jayson Tatum, who returned to the lineup after sitting out the second half of Wednesday's win over the Los Angeles Lakers due to right foot soreness that required an MRI on Thursday, also had 16 points. Marcus Morris, still easing his way back in after missing nine games this season, added 14 points and seven rebounds in addition to his late-game defensive efforts on Walker.

"It's very tough staying in front of Kemba," Morris said. "He's a good guard, very crafty. I've been watching Kemba for a little while so I knew the step-back was coming at some point. I just tried to stay on top of it and lock his [butt] down."

Morris, acquired from Detroit in an offseason swap that sent Avery Bradley to the Pistons, got his first taste of being in Celtics green when TD Garden gets loud.

"Normally I'm on the other side but it's a tough place to play when the crowd gets into it like that," Morris said. "[The fans] did a great job and helped us win that game."

Yet again, Boston showed some rather insane resiliency for such a young team.

"We're a very mentally tough team," Larkin said. "We're young, but we all believe in each other. We believe in ourselves. In the NBA, someone is always going to be out with a nick here and there. You have to always be ready, and we had a lot of guys step up to the plate and do what they've done this year.

"We have a lot of guys who can do things down the stretch. We stick together. We're young. I don't know the average age of our team, but we're very resilient, hungry. We don't want to lose any games."

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