Anthony Davis stood on the free throw line sporting a slash line of 33 points, 10 rebounds with over four minutes remaining. He had just disposed of Shane Larkin, pouring a jump shot over him and getting the foul. His presence was commanding on Sunday night, but his fellow big men set him up for his overwhelming fourth quarter.
The Celtics’ role players, Larkin included, tried their best to stick with Cheick Diallo, Emeka Okafor and the other Pelicans who have stepped up in the shadow left behind by Demarcus Cousins’ season-ending injury. Boston trailed by only six entering the fourth with Davis off the floor to start it, but eight minutes later they were buried by 20.
New Orleans, desperately holding on to the eight seed in the west, has worked its way through a earth-shattering injury almost two months after Cousins went down.
Boston’s not quite there yet. Without Marcus Smart, Daniel Theis and momentarily Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown, NOLA unloaded on the Celtics 108-89.
The difference between two teams, both dealing with a horrific injury bug, shined brightest to start the fourth. New Orleans led 82-76, after Larkin and Al Horford propelled Boston within four on a 8-0 run. Jayson Tatum scored 23 points by the end of the third, but wouldn’t put one on the board in the fourth as the Celtics sputtered out. His pass, stolen by Nikola Mirotic, went the other way for a Diallo flush to end the third frame.
Just over one minute into the fourth, Abdel Nader, newly thrusted into the regular rotation by a lack of bodies, picked up four free throws on a shooting foul and technical on Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry. He missed all four, unable to swing Boston back within a possession. They’d never have another chance.
Greg Monroe, active with 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists, entered to conserve Horford for a late battle with Davis in small ball lineups. Monroe drove to the rim and ripped a pass to Semi Ojeleye who converted. But the Pelicans swung back, Diallo finishing a floater and Jrue Holiday converted two free throws to push the lead to nine.
Diallo stepped up on the defensive end, ruining Terry Rozier’s layup attempt with a block, as Rajon Rondo flew by his old team inside for two more. New Orleans emerged by double-digits and never looked back. Mirotic stuffed Monroe at the rim, then Davis returned, pouring a turnaround jumper through the net.
Ian Clark added two more and possessions later, Davis swatted a point-blank layup attempt by Horford all the way to the three-point line. By this point, their fourth-quarter battle inside would become a moot point. Rondo swung a pass to the top of the arc, E’Twaun Moore awaited for another three and New Orleans was on their way to a blowout win.
Davis finished with 34 points and 11 rebounds, but more importantly his new front court mates, Diallo and Mirotic, joined him in double figures. They’ve adjusted to life without a key rotation player,
For the Celtics, their search for stability continues.