Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker's description of the fourth quarter Wednesday was as succinct as it was illustrative.
"Al makes plays," Walker said of a 96-87 victory home victory over the Boston Celtics. "We have to trust him to do that."
That would be center Al Jefferson, who scored 11 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter and finished with 14 rebounds to hold off a Celtics team that had trimmed a 12-point deficit to one with 9 1/2 minutes left.
This one had all the warning signs of another fourth-quarter collapse. The Hornets in general, and Gerald Henderson in particular, struggled to guard Celtics reserve Marcus Thornton (13 fourth-quarter points). The Hornets were throwing up too many jump shots late, which was plotting a course to a poor shooting percentage.
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Then the ball started finding Jefferson, not because the Hornets were specifically running plays for him, but organically in the flow of the offense. Jefferson was guarded mostly by Tyler Zeller, which was a big mismatch.
So Jefferson attacked, making five of six shots in the game's final nine minutes.
That the Celtics did very little double-teaming that final quarter was a head-scratcher to most anyone, including Jefferson.
Jefferson had generated just four points in the first half, but certainly made up for that after halftime.
"Just too much thinking out there in the first half," Jefferson said. 'I've just got to relax and be myself."
Was he surprised how many open looks they conceded to him late?
"The way I played in the first half, I wouldn't have doubled me, either," Jefferson joked. "But yes, to be honest with you, I was surprised. Then the shots started falling for me."
Hornets coach Steve Clifford said it was healthy that most of Jefferson's fourth-quarter points didn't come off plays run specifically for him. The Hornets ran a give-and-go between Jefferson and Walker (18 points, seven assists and five rebounds) that produced a 3-point play for Walker off a foul by Rondo. That's what Walker meant by trusting Jefferson to make plays.
"We've got to get more of that, too," Jefferson said. "Teams know my plays - every play. We need to do more like tonight - just some duck-ins that they aren't expecting."
This victory made the Hornets 6-15. They won consecutive games for the first time this season since early November when they beat the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks at home. Saturday Walker put in a left-handed layup at the buzzer to beat the New York Knicks 103-102
The other significant development Wednesday was the return of small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, after he'd missed 12 in a row with a stress-reaction in his right foot.
Kidd-Gilchrist played 19 minutes off the bench. He had stretches of strong defense on Celtics forward Jeff Green (16 points) and generally revved the team's energy.
As Clifford described, Kidd-Gilchrist brings a "spirit" that is positively infectious on his teammates.
"Our defense has been kind of weak from last year and our fast-break points have been poor. He brings that energy, that fire. We've been missing that," Jefferson said. "Jeff Green is tough and MKG made him work for everything he got.
"That's what we've really been missing. You can just tell how he brings us up with him."