BOSTON — Isaiah Thomas returned to the lineup with a bang and the Boston Celtics ended their three-game losing streak with a fourth-quarter explosion Friday night.
Thomas, who missed four games with a groin strain, scored 26 points and Al Horford added 18 to lead the Celtics to a 96-88 victory over Kemba Walker-less Charlotte Hornets.
Walker, Charlotte’s leading scorer, missed the game because of a personal issue and will rejoin the team Saturday night in Atlanta. His team clearly missed him, shooting just 32.7 percent from the floor in the Hornets’ fourth straight loss.
Thomas scored seven points during a 15-0 run that was aided by a four-point possession resulting from the flagrant-1 foul committed by Marco Belinelli on Thomas. Jae Crowder also scored seven points down the stretch as the Celtics won after trailing by 12 with 4:15 gone in the third quarter.
Charlotte took 98 shots in the game but went just 8-for-30 from 3-point range.
Horford had a big third quarter, with eight points, three rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots. He finished with eight rebounds and five assists.
Crowder and Avery Bradley both scored 12 points, Bradley grabbing seven rebounds. Thomas was 9-for-20 from the floor and also dished out five assists as the Celtics improved to 14-12 (they were 1-3 without Thomas).
Nicolas Batum led the Hornets with 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists, while four others scored in double figures — Ramon Sessions (making his first start as a Hornet in place of Walker) with 13, Marvin Williams 12, Belinelli 11 and Jeremy Lamb 10.
The Hornets led by seven in the first quarter but were down a point before a 13-4 finish to the first half — back-to-back 3-pointers by Batum keying an 8-0 run over the final 2:24 to make it 50-41 at the break. The lead grew to 10 on the first possession of the second half and then to 12 as Batum scored six points in the first 4:15 of the second half.
Then came Boston’s run, and it took some 3 1/2 minutes for the home team to tie the game.
It was 69-69 after three quarters.
NOTES: Boston G Isaiah Thomas returned after missing four games with a groin strain. “A big-time boost. We’ve been missing him,” teammate Avery Bradley said. “His scoring, his leadership, I mean I could go down the list.” … Hornets G Kemba Walker missed the game because of a personal issue. Walker will rejoin the team for Saturday night’s game in Atlanta. … Coach Steve Clifford on his team’s defense, or lack of it, during the three-game losing streak the Hornets brought into Friday night’s game: “Worst three-game stretch since we’ve been here. The numbers are scary.” The three opponents hit 48.7 percent of their shots from the field and went 44.4 from 3-point range. … The Celtics held a pregame ceremony honoring broadcaster Craig Sager, who lost his two-year battle with leukemia on Thursday. “There’s another inspiration that people can look up to in tough times,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. … The Celtics wore practice shirts with a wild design commemorating Sager’s fashion style. … Boston opens a three-game trip at Miami on Sunday.