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Jefferson leads Hornets to second straight win

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte Hornets haven’t been able to close out games for much of the season, but that’s starting to change.

The Hornets pulled away to beat the Boston Celtics 96-87 on Wednesday night, winning their second straight and further distancing themselves from a recent 10-game losing streak.

They reeled off nine straight points and held the Celtics scoreless on eight straight possessions over a four-minute span at the end.

“That’s two games in a row we’ve been able to close out, and it feels good,” said center Al Jefferson, who led the Hornets with 23 points and a season-high 14 rebounds. “We just had to get some stops. We knew Boston has the type of team that can get hot fast, and they’re never really out of the game. We just had to step up our defense and attack them on the other end, and we were able to close them out.”

Coach Steve Clifford has been saying the Hornets would start playing better as the schedule lightens up a bit, and coming off a five-day break the team did precisely that.

“Obviously that was a good win for us,” Clifford said. “We made the plays in the fourth quarter. Our defense was better tonight and, you know, we played a better game tonight. We played an all-around better game. The way they played tonight was the product of the way they’ve practiced for the last three days. After you’ve played 20 games in this league there are a lot of guys that don’t want to practice, they just want to play the game. But our guys were good, and hopefully it will set the tone for our next set of games.”

Jefferson scored 19 points in the second half and tallied five clutch points in the late 9-0 spurt.

The Hornets (6-15) also got 18 points from guard Kemba Walker and 13 points from forward Lance Stephenson.

The Celtics (7-13) got a triple-double from guard Rajon Rondo (12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists). Forward Jeff Green and guard Marcus Thornton led the Celtics with 16 points apiece, center Tyler Zeller scored 13 and forward Brandon Bass scored 10.

“We missed some opportunities, but we need to play better,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “They played better than us tonight. We had too many turnovers down the stretch and you just can’t do that, especially when you’re behind.”

Charlotte led by as many as 12 in the third quarter but led just 87-85 after Thornton’s jumper with 4:31 left.

Walker converted a three-point play with 3:46 left to push the lead to five, then Jefferson scored inside with 2:57 left for a seven-point lead. Jefferson then went outside to hit a 20-footer with 1:19 left to push the lead to nine, and Walker capped the spurt with a jumper with 21.6 seconds left for a 96-85 lead.

Between Thornton’s jumper and Rondo’s jumper with 15.2 seconds left, the Celtics went 4:16 without scoring — with four turnovers and four missed shots.

NOTES: Hornets F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (stress reaction right foot) returned to action after missing the previous 12 games. He finished with nine points and six rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench. … The Celtics have been without C Vitor Faverani (left knee surgery) all season. … Hornets G P.J. Hairston was inactive, serving a one-game benching after failing to show up for practice on Tuesday. … Hornets G Jeffery Taylor continues to serve a 24-game league-imposed suspension. … Celtics C Tyler Zeller had 13 points and eight rebounds and Hornets F Cody Zeller had nine points and two rebounds in the battle of brothers. … This was the first of four games between the teams this season. … The Hornets came into the game leading the NBA in fewest turnovers, averaging 11.3 per game. They had 11 turnovers Wednesday. … Celtics G Rajon Rondo came into the game leading the NBA in assists at 10.8, and finished with 10 assists. … The Hornets will play at Memphis on Friday. … The Celtics will return home to face New York on Friday.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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