Jaylen Brown was ruled out on Monday afternoon due to a lower back injury suffered on Saturday night in Dallas, which allowed Brad Stevens to insert Marcus Smart into the starting lineup alongside Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Marcus Morris, and Jayson Tatum. Boston would ultimately come away with a 124-107 win at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans in what was one of their best end-to-end performances of the year.
The Celtics got off to one of the best starts of the season, thanks to an early 10-0 run. Smart provided a nice spark on the defensive end, which created plenty of opportunities on the other side of the floor. Boston caused 4 turnovers in the first 3-and-a-half minutes and started 2⁄3 from deep over that timeframe.
Boston took a 22-9 lead after a quick 7-0 run led by Horford’s 10 early points. Again, much of this was thanks to a strong defensive effort led by Marcus Smart. The Celtics have really struggled defending the pick and roll, but did so successfully in a very aggressive manner early in this one. They continuously applied pressure high above the break, which caused all sorts of issues for New Orleans. The Pelicans had 8 turnovers in the game’s first 8 minutes.
When the initial subs entered the game, Celtics fans got a taste of some first quarter minutes for Guerschon Yabusele, but the frenchman would ultimately get called for two quick fouls. Brad Stevens used Gordon Hayward as the primary ball handler early, allowing Terry Rozier to work off the ball, similar to what they did with Irving working off of Smart to begin the game. Stevens is known to tweak lineups throughout the first half of the season, but working both Irving and Rozier off the ball seems to work rather well for Boston across their first 21 games.
The Celtics quick pace and quality play on both ends continued in the second quarter, taking advantage of New Orleans’ slow defensive rotations. With Anthony Davis on the bench, Boston took full advantage. Rozier had a great stretch to begin the second quarter, looking more patient than he has as of late. Shot selection has been an issue for the guard, but that wasn’t prevalent tonight in NOLA. Semi Ojeleye also saw some rotation minutes and looked very good on the defensive end.
The Pelicans were able to cut the deficit to 9 at the break thanks to Nikola Mirotic’s 19 first-half points. Horford finished the first half with 12 points, as Boston went 9/17 from deep in the game’s first 24 minutes. The Celtics assisted on 13 of their first 21 made field goals, representing their much-improved ball movement. They also had 18 first-half fastbreak points.
Mirotic stayed hot in the third quarter to keep New Orleans within striking distance. Davis also dominated on the glass, collecting 15 boards by the midway point of the quarter. The Celtics’ defense refused to let up however, causing 17 turnovers by the 5-minute mark of the third, but the resilient Pelicans would continue to get to the rim. They would finish with 29 free throws compared to the Celtics’ 10 attempts, but that wouldn’t be enough.
Quiet plays like Aron Baynes closing out Julius Randle jumpers and Horford doing all of the little things helped Boston to one of their best end-to-end defensive performances of the season. Of course, Smart had plenty to do with this as well. New Orleans would finish with 22 total turnovers. The Celtics were great from start to finish on the offensive end too, thanks to swift ball movement and a much quicker pace. Boston would end the game on a 17-7 run.
Worth a quick note: Al Horford had his best game of the young campaign tonight. He finished with 20 points on 8/15 FG in 32 minutes. Without a doubt his most complete game so far.
The Celtics improved to 11-10, while the Pelicans fell to 11-10. Boston is now off until Friday night’s matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers.