BOSTON — The Boston Celtics blew all of a 13-point, fourth-quarter lead but then used a late 8-0 spurt to end a nine-game losing streak with a 106-103 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Friday night.
The Bobcats, playing without injured point guard Kemba Walker, out with a groin injury, lost a key game in their battle to finish sixth in the Eastern Conference. The sixth spot avoids a first-round matchup with either Miami or Indiana. The Bobcats, who have lost five of their last seven games, trail the Washington Wizards by a game.
Celtics forward Jared Sullinger, who returned in the fourth quarter after leaving in the third with a mild ankle sprain, started the late spurt with a 3-pointer. Forward Jeff Green made it 101-97 and guard Avery Bradley canned another three. The Celtics were 11-for-23 from 3-point range in the game.
Ahead by seven, the Celtics almost blew that lead, too, but held on.
Bradley led the Celtics with 22 points. Boston is jockeying for a different kind of position – the draft lottery — and won without point guard Rajon Rondo, out with a leg injury. Sullinger had 20 points and seven rebounds, and Green and forward Brandon Bass both had 18 points, and rookie point guard Phil Pressey delivered 10 points, a career-high 13 assists and three steals.
Pressey also kept an important offensive rebound alive after Sullinger missed a long 3-pointer in the closing seconds. Bass grabbed that loose ball and was fouled with Charlotte not over the limit. Sullinger was then fouled and made two free throws with 2.5 seconds left.
Guard Jannero Pargo missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer for the Bobcats.
Bass added nine rebounds in the win.
Former Celtic center Al Jefferson, 1-12 against his former team, scored 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead Charlotte, which had five players score in double figures.
Sullinger left the game with 6:45 left in the third quarter, hobbling right off to the dressing room. But he was able to return.
Both teams had 8-0 spurts and the Bobcats built their lead as high as nine in the first half. But it was the Celtics, led by the playmaking of Pressey, who led by two at the half — Sullinger’s tap-in with 6.5 seconds left in the half establishing Boston’s first lead since 16-14.
The Celtics built a six-point lead early in the third quarter, lost it, fell behind by three with 3:48 left in the quarter and then ran off 12 straight, shutting the Bobcats out for the final 3:48 while running off their 12 straight points. The final point was a technical foul free throw — the second of the night for guard Jerryd Bayless.
The first technical was for a defensive three-second violation, the second was called on Charlotte’s forward Anthony Tolliver, who apparently mouthed off from the bench.
Bayless soon left with a right knee sprain.
NOTES: What would have been a nifty point guard matchup between Charlotte’s Kemba Walker and Boston’s Rajon Rondo did not occur because both missed the game with injuries. Walker, averaging 17.8 points, 6.1 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game, was out with a groin issue. “He’s a dynamic guy, defensively and offensively,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. Rondo was a late scratch with left shin/calf soreness. Because he does not play back-to-back nights as he returns from knee surgery, Rondo was slated to miss Saturday night’s game in Cleveland. There was no word on whether he would play Saturday instead of Friday. ... The Bobcats, battling the Washington Wizards for the sixth and seventh playoff spots in the Eastern Conference (finishing sixth means not having to face Miami or Indiana), finish at home against Philadelphia on Saturday night, at Atlanta on Monday and home against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday. ... F Kris Humphries, who has had a solid year for Boston, returned after missing two games with right knee trouble.