BOSTON (AP) — A runaway start for the Boston Celtics turned into a tight finish.
Al Horford led the Celtics early and late, with 26 points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots to lead Boston to a 97-92 win over the Sacramento Kings on Friday night.
“He just was aggressive. He knocked down his shots. He did what we needed him to do and he carried us tonight,” said Isaiah Thomas, who scored 14 of his 20 points in the second half to help the Celtics hold off the Kings.
Jae Crowder added 24 points and Avery Bradley had 15 points and nine assists for Boston, which needed a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to pull away and finish off the Kings.
Sacramento continued to scrap until the end. Horford helped seal it with six seconds left when he swatted away 3-point attempt by DeMarcus Cousins, then hit a pair of foul shots for Boston’s final points.
“I know that he tried to draw something there. I just stayed solid and not let him get a shot off,” Horford said. “I’m just trying to be active — as active as I can be.”
Sacramento outrebounded Boston 51-44, but hurt itself in the final period with turnovers, missed shots and a technical foul called on Matt Barnes as Boston surged ahead.
Cousins led Sacramento with 28 points and nine rebounds. Darren Collison and Rudy Gay scored 13 apiece for the Kings.
“Cousins is Cousins. He’s going to score,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “He’s to get 28 points or whatever he got, but you can’t let those other guys have huge nights too.”
The Kings were playing for the first time since Monday.
Sacramento’s six-game road trip was interrupted when Wednesday’s game at Philadelphia was postponed because of condensation on the floor.
The layoff showed early as the Celtics went up by 13 points in the first period, but the Kings regrouped and rallied to tie it by the end of the quarter.
“It’s almost like we have to get hit first for us to react. It’s not good for us,” Cousins said. “We’re in the situation where we have to come in and be aggressive every night. If we don’t figure this out, we’re going to continue to have these kind of games and just another losing season.”
It was Horford’s best game since leaving Atlanta to sign with Boston over the summer. His previous high for scoring with the Celtics was 20 points and he hadn’t blocked more for Boston since getting four against Brooklyn in his Celtics debut.
“He’s all over the place. He covers a lot of ground. He calls out calls. I think he’s a competitive guy and that’s proved in his winning track record,” Stevens said. “One thing about Al — he’s always in the stands. His arms are always long. He takes up a lot of space and he reacts quickly to what is going on.”
The Kings had their chances to win in Boston for the first time since 2007. They didn’t help themselves down the stretch, making just 6 of 23 in the fourth quarter and going without a field goal from Gay’s layup with 8:33 remaining until Gay hit a 3-pointer with 4:51 left to play pulled Sacramento within 84-81.
“We got off to a really slow start,” Gay said. “They’re a good team but we shot ourselves in the foot today.
Sacramento reserves outscored Boston’s 33-12. Barnes led the Kings’ reserves with 12 points and sparking Sacramento’s rally in the first quarter after the dreadful start.
“Their bench crushed us when they came in,” Stevens said. “I didn’t think we responded to attacking them well or defending them well with their energy in that group.”
Kings: The Kings closed the first quarter on a 13-0 run to tie it at 29-all entering the second period. ... ... Sacramento entered the game having lost eight straight visits to Boston.
Horford scored 12 of Boston’s 29 points in the first quarter. ... Thomas led the Celtics in scoring the previous 14 straight games.
Kings: Continue a long road trip Sunday at New York.
Celtics: At Philadelphia on Saturday in the first of three straight on the road