BOSTON – Boston’s 10-game winning streak appeared to be in jeopardy Friday night, as a bloodied Kyrie Irving walked off the TD Garden parquet less than two minutes into action against the Charlotte Hornets.
Boston’s leading scorer and distributor had just been struck on the nose by an inadvertent elbow from teammate Aron Baynes, and was soon after ruled out for the rest of the night to be monitored for possible concussion symptoms.
The Celtics, who were already without All-Stars Gordon Hayward (broken tibia) and Al Horford (in concussion protocol), fell into an early, 18-point deficit against Charlotte. They did not have any star-level talent to dig themselves out of the hole, but they did have star-level resiliency.
Somehow, that was enough.
Behind an outstanding joint effort, the Celtics stormed back and captured a 90-87 win, while extending their league-best winning streak to 11 games.
“We just got a lot of fighters,” said point guard Shane Larkin, who scored 16 points in just 17 minutes of action. “We have a lot of resilient guys. We believe in our team. We believe in each other. We just go out there and play together.”
The Celtics initially looked lost without Irving, as they were outscored 26-11 during the first quarter. However, Boston was able to match up more evenly with the Hornets during the second and third frames, before closing out the game with a 26-11 quarter of its own.
Stevens credited the five-some of Larkin, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, Guerschon Yabusele and Daniel Theis for giving Boston the boost it needed during the comeback win. He confidently put that young group on the floor to start the fourth quarter, and he provided a bit of coach’s wisdom to get them going.
“Most of you guys haven’t been here before in a game like this,” Stevens told them as they entered the final quarter facing a 76-64 deficit. “But if you get some stops and string a few buckets together, this place is going to get fun.”
So that’s exactly what they did.
In a matter of six and a half minutes, Boston gained an 80-79 lead. As Stevens predicted, the crowd became electric, and the Celtics fed off of the buzz.
Boston obviously could not count on Irving to close out the game, but it received offensive sparks from Jayson Tatum (16 points) and Larkin, and a defensive boost from Marcus Morris (14 points, seven rebounds) down the stretch that helped the deal.
“We’ve been preaching next man up forever,” said Terry Rozier, who also stepped up with 15 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals. “When our team is dropping like flies, you just got to be ready.”
The Celtics may be dropping like flies, but that hasn’t stopped them from soaring to win after win.
“I think that this team has a chance to be one of those teams that just kind of fights through adversity all the way through,” said Stevens. “But we’ll see. We’re only 13 games in.”
Yes, the Celtics have only played a sliver of their season so far, and tougher times could surely arise as the campaign wears on. But this 13-game measuring stick has provided enough evidence to indicate that this team will fight like hell to win every single game, no matter the circumstances.
Resiliency has earned the C’s an 11-game winning streak over the past three-plus weeks. And resiliency is what they’ll continue to rely on Sunday afternoon when they go for win No. 12 against the Toronto Raptors.