Due to injuries, we’ve barely seen the elite Eastern Conference team this Celtics squad was supposed to be this season. Yet in their last couple of games we have seen the Celtics return to form as a close-knit, scrappy, hustle-driven team, like they were when they won a hard-fought 48 games last season.
With Jae Crowder still out and Al Horford—who flew back to Boston before the game—not playing either, the Celtics remained shorthanded in this matchup. To add insult to injury (or is it just injury to injury?) Isaiah Thomas also came into the game with a sprained index finger, and of course Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk have both been rotated into starting positions despite both having only recently returned to on-court action.
The Pelicans however were also undermanned, entering the game missing Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Quincy Pondexter from their active roster. So it was hard to tell who was entering the game in worse shape, except that the Celtics won their last two games to push them over .500, while the Pelicans entered the game having won only a single game this season.
Amir Johnson was given the big task of starting against Anthony Davis and actually won the tip as well as sinking an early three, but he obviously struggled to keep up with NO’s young star.
Avery Bradley got off to a strong start, using his craftiness to get baskets from all over the floor in the first quarter, and Isaiah didn’t seem to be too bothered by his sprained finger as he sunk some early buckets with ease.
Jordan Mickey was subbed in halfway through the first and managed some strong defensive plays, pulling down boards and pulling off some hustle plays against Anthony Davis without any hesitation.
The Celtics couldn’t maintain their early momentum though, as Stevens cycled through a number of combinations, and Boston went to the first break trailing by a single point. Avery carried the Celtics in the first quarter, scoring 10 of their 26 points, while Anthony Davis scored 11 of New Orleans’ 27.
New Orleans continued to dare Boston to shoot from long range as the Celtics for the most part were left wide open to fire from three. Unfortunately, Bradley was the only Celtic who was able to capitalise on the lackadaisical perimeter defense with the rest of the team struggling to shoot from distance.
At the end of the first half the Celtics had attempted 23 three-pointers but made only 7 of them. On the other hand, New Orleans only took a total of 7 shots from long-range in the entire first half and only made 3 of them.
Meanwhile, the Pelicans punished the Celtics inside the paint, making up for the discrepancy in three-point shooting and maintaining their lead through strong interior offense for most of the second.
A potential flop from the theatrical Marcus Smart drew the ire of the New Orleans crowd, and the game was slowed down by foul calls back and forth in the second quarter. Jaylen Brown managed to outshine his draft classmate, Buddy Hield, in the first half, as Brown went 3 for 3 from the field and pulled off some strong defensive plays. Hield, conversely, scored only once despite receiving more minutes.
Nonetheless, New Orleans led at the end of the first half 56-51, with the Celtics’ poor shooting from long range and lack of scoring inside needing to be addressed if they were to win the second half.
Unfortunately, the third quarter opened with a 9-0 run by New Orleans as the Celtics struggled against Davis’s dominant interior defense.
Then after a quick timeout, Marcus Smart stepped up. Acting as a catalyst for a Celtic resurgence, he nailed back-to-back threes and pulled off some impressive defensive plays to drag the Celtics back into the game.
The score stabilised as IT and Smart fought hard to keep the game competitive. But some shockingly bad defensive decisions gave New Orleans several easy buckets, and overall the Celtics seemed to lack cohesion. Despite the impressive efforts of Marcus Smart, it seemed like the Celtics couldn’t find their form as a team. That was until the fourth quarter when the Celtics’ hunger re-emerged.
After entering the final period trailing by 10, Boston fought their way back into the game. They found the energy that had been lacking earlier and made the most of every possession.
Chipping away at the lead, the Celtics kept coming close to taking the lead but kept falling just short. Finally Isaiah took control down the stretch and a backdoor cut from Bradley gave Boston the slim lead over the Pelicans as the final buzzer approached.
The New Orleans crowd was brought to its feet as Langston Galloway hit a three-pointer to take the lead back from the Celtics. But a quick three the other way from Isaiah put the Celtics back up by two.
Some outstanding play by Isaiah Thomas in the final minutes of the game, assisted by Bradley and Smart as wingmen, kept things close, but New Orleans battled back and held a single-point lead with 24 seconds left in the game. The clock wound down, and some foul calls extended New Orleans’ lead to 2. Isaiah delivered for Boston in the final seconds, tying up the score with only 3 seconds left on the clock.
Then a lapse by Kelly Olynyk gave two free throws to New Orleans’ Tim Frazier, with only 2.5 seconds still on the clock and Boston out of timeouts. Boston’s final play seemed to go astray, but the final buzzer was waved off and time was added to the clock giving Boston one final hope for getting the win. The desperation play wasn’t enough though, and New Orleans got the the last-minute victory, winning by a single point, with the final score 106-105.