The Celtics return home from a 4 game road trip to begin a 7 game home stand and they host the New Orleans Pelicans for 2nd and final game between them this season. The Pelicans won 120-115 in an overtime contest in New Orleans on February 21. The Celtics were up 24 points in the 3rd quarter in that one before the Pelicans rallied when the Celtics stopped doing the things that built the lead like defending and moving the ball.
The Celtics are 7th in the East, half a game behind Charlotte (5) and tied with Atlanta (6). The Celtics are 1 game behind 4th place New York and 1 game ahead of 8th place Miami and 9th place Indiana. They are 4-6 in their last 10 games and 13-7 at home. They are 7-10 vs Western teams and are looking for their 3rd straight win.
The Pelicans are 12th in the West, 1.5 games out of 10th place and a spot in the play in tournament. They are 5-5 in their last 10 games and 6-14 on the road. They are 8-8 vs Eastern Conference teams. The Pelicans have started 7 different lineups this season and the lineup listed above has started 5 games with a record of 4-1. Of course, if Lonzo can play, he would start at the point once again. This lineup but with Lonzo at the point has started 34 games and is 15-19.
The Celtics will once be without Tristan Thompson and Romeo Langford due to health and safety protocols. Semi Ojeleye is still out with the hip injury. Evan Fournier was upgraded to available. Jaylen Brown was a late scratch with a hip contusion and will miss this game. Brad said that when Fournier could play that he would just throw him in the mix so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get the start. If Fournier doesn’t start, I would guess that Brad would put Grant Williams in the starting lineup once again.
For the Pelicans, Lonzo Ball is questionable with a hip injury and Jaxon Hayes is questionable with a wrist injury. Both are considered a game time decision. If Ball can’t play, Nickeil Alexander-Walker should once again get the start.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Evan Fournier
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Robert Williams III
Romeo Langford (covid) out
Tristan Thompson (covid) out
Semi Ojeleye (hip) out
Jaylen Brown (hip) out
Evan Fournier (covid) available
Probable Pelicans Starters
Kira Lewis, Jr
Lonzo Ball (hip) questionable
Jaxon Hayes (wrist) questionable
Stan Van Gundy
Jayson Tatum vs Zion Williamson
Williamson is definitely a challenge to defend. He is averaging 26.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 3.5 assists. He is shooting 62.8% from the field and 34.9% from beyond the arc. In the Pelicans’ earlier win, Williamson put up 28 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 block. He has scored 20+ points in 23 consecutive games. If the Celtics can slow him down, it would go a long way toward getting a win.
Evan Fournier vs Brandon Ingram
Ingram is averaging 23.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 4.6 assists. The is shooting 47.6% from the field and 38.2% from beyond the arc. In the first game between these two teams this season, Ingram had 33 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. I apologize for the Magic uniform but I didn’t have one in a Celtics uniform for obvious reasons. I’m not sure who will start at the three for the Celtics with Brown out, but whoever starts here needs to stay with Ingram both in the paint and on the perimeter.
Marcus Smart vs Eric Bledsoe
Bledsoe is averaging 11.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists. He is shooting 41.8% from the field and 36.2% from beyond the arc. He is capable of putting up big numbers if you leave him open, however. Without Ball starting, the shooting guard matchup is key, but if Lonzo Ball is able to play, his matchup with Kemba would be the key matchup.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense will always be the key to winning. The Pelicans average 115.4 points per game while the Celtics average 112.4 points per game. The Celtics must play tough defense to slow down the Pelicans’ scoring if they want to win this game. The Celtics are 22nd in the league with a defensive rating of 112.2. The Pelicans are 28th with a defensive rating of 115.6. The Celtics can’t expect to win a shoot out with the Pelicans and so they must make defense a priority to get a win.
Rebound - The Celtics have to crash the boards as a team. Rebounding takes effort and when they put that extra effort out to dominate the boards, it often translates to all other areas of the game as well. The Pelicans are averaging 46.3 rebounds and the Celtics are averaging 44.0 rebounds per game. The Pelicans are first in the league with 15.3 second chance points and so the Celtics are going to have to work hard to keep them off the boards if they want to get a win.
Move the Ball - The Celtics need to keep the ball moving and not lapse into iso’s and hero ball. When the players move and they keep the ball moving, they get good shots and are tough to beat. When their assist numbers are up, they usually get a win. When they have a low number of assists, they usually get beat. They have to move the ball and play as a team.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics have got to be aggressive in going to the basket, playing defense, diving for loose balls and just play harder. In their losses, it is often because they let their opponent play harder than them. Their effort and aggressiveness can make them very tough to beat and their lack of it can make them vulnerable. They are once again facing a team that is under .500 and they can’t afford to come out with less than 100% effort or they may be facing another loss.
Home Game and Fans - The Celtics are back at home and for the first time this season, Celtics fans will be in the stands. The Pelicans have struggled on the road this season and the Celtics have played much better at home. Hopefully the Celtics will come out ready to play and get some motivation from the home crowd.
Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor. Every crew calls the game differently. Some are tyrants with the whistle and some let the teams play. Some refs are very touchy and call quick fouls and techs. The Celtics have to adjust their game to however the refs are calling it. They can’t let missed calls and no calls get to them and make them lose their focus.