December 28, 2017 / 5:16 AM / in 6 months

Tatum steps up, helps Celtics defeat Hornets

Tatum steps up, helps Celtics defeat Hornets

With Gordon Hayward out for the season, opposing defenses are going to focus on stopping Kyrie Irving and Al Horford.

The Boston Celtics are going to need a third threat. Rookie Jayson Tatum is blossoming into that role.

Tatum scored 10 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, and Horford and Irving combined for 41 points as the Celtics closed out the Charlotte Hornets 102-91 on Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C.

Irving scored 21 points and handed out eight assists, and Horford added 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Celtics, who had lost three of their previous four games, including a Christmas Day defeat to the Washington Wizards.

They never trailed Wednesday, but saw a 16-point halftime lead reduced to one by the Hornets heading into the fourth quarter.

Tatum had a pair of dunks and a strong baseline drive for a layup in the fourth quarter, and Horford had a layup and a clinching 3-pointer in the final minutes to help the Celtics (28-10) put away Charlotte.

“I think everyone enjoys that. Kyrie (Irving) is drawing a ton of attention in that moment and Al (Horford) draws a lot of attention, so a couple of Jayson’s (Tatum) baskets were off of that,” Boston coach Brad Stevens told reporters. “We played him at the four a little bit so he was able to drive the ball but we need him to be a good player.”

Kemba Walker led Charlotte with 24 points, but hit only 9 of 22 shots from the floor. Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist each scored 13 points, while Dwight Howard amassed 12 points and 17 rebounds.

The Hornets (12-22) got off to another slow start, something that’s plagued them all season. Charlotte trailed 28-16 after the first quarter and never fully recovered.

“I talked to the guys in the locker room after the game about waiting too long and waiting until we get down to actually start playing the way we know how to play,” associate coach Stephen Silas, who continues to fill in for coach Steve Clifford, told reporters. “I thought we did that tonight. We did that in the last game and we won it, but that’s something we don’t want to continue because that’s not a good formula for consistent play.”

Charlotte found its stride in the third quarter. The Hornets ran off 12 straight points, a run capped by a driving layup by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist that cut the Celtics lead to 64-62.

“I was proud of our guys for fighting back after we got down so much in the first half, to hold them to 42 after letting them score 60 in the first half,” Silas said. “I was definitely proud of the way we fought back.”

Horford said he was disappointed that they let Charlotte get back in the game in the third quarter, but was proud how they responded.

“We were a little disappointed in that, but we stayed together, we stayed focused and we just needed to build it back up and I felt like we stayed in the moment,” Horford said. “We did a good job of that. Different guys stepped up and made plays when we needed to.”

Terry Rozier and Shane Larkin came off the bench to spark Boston. Rozier opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer, and Larkin had a layup midway through quarter that jumpstarted the Celtics’ close push.

Rozier finished with 15 points, and Larkin add 11 points for Boston.

Hayward, who, along with Irving, was a prized offseason pickup for the Celtics, suffered a gruesome leg injury in the season-opener. But Boston hasn’t let the loss of Hayward slow it down. Tatum has been a big part of solution.

The rookie from Duke has scored in double figures in seven straight games and is drawing praise from his veteran teammates.

“The patience that he has, understanding what we’re trying to accomplish and knowing that when the game has to slow down, the spots that he needs to be in, the spots that he can take advantage of and being able to have the confidence to be put in that position,” Irving said of Tatum. “He’s taking full advantage of it, so he just wants to continue to grow and learn like he’s been doing.”

The Celtics hit 47.4 percent of their field-goal attempts, including 15 of 34 from 3-point range. The Hornets made 36.8 percent from the floor, including 7 of 23 from long distance.

NOTES: Charlotte lost despite grabbing more rebounds (52-43) and committing fewer turnovers (12-16). ... Boston completes a back-to-back set Thursday with a home game against the Houston Rockets. ... The Hornets begin a four-game California road trip Friday at the Golden State Warriors. Charlotte also will visit the Los Angeles Clippers, the Sacramento Kings and the Los Angeles Lakers.

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