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Marcus Smart happens, Evan Fournier does not as Pelicans beat Celtics 115-109

Smart led two separate comebacks while also missing shots throughout and heaving an inexplicable half-court shot as New Orleans’ shot clock expired. Evan Fournier debuted 0-for-10 from the field.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Marcus Smart stormed out of halftime with the Celtics trailing 64-55 after a 2-of-7 individual shooting first half with impact. He blocked Zion Williamson at the rim, hit a running two in transition, then drew three free throws in the early seconds of the third quarter. Kemba Walker and Grant Williams hit threes after Boston moved the ball inside-and-out, and pulled back into the game after an eight-point deficit. Late in the fourth, down by 13, Smart led a 15-0 run down by double digits. He also got ejected shortly after in one of his most perplexing performances ever.

All that happened in one night, as the Celtics narrowly missed a comeback victory against the Pelicans, losing 115-109 to begin their seven-game home stand.

The arrival of Evan Fournier did not change the defensive fortitude, focus and consistency of the offense. In fact, he shot 0-for-10 with 0 points in his Celtics debut after escaping a two-week layoff to begin his career in Boston due to a false positive COVID test. His runout following a steal in the third quarter turned into one of two missed layups on the night, then Smart made one of the most questionable plays in NBA history.

Payton Pritchard dove to chase an errant Pelicans pass to Brandon Ingram and fell to the floor, forcing a jump ball. Ingram and Pritchard both let the referees jump ball go at first, due to New Orleans only having 0.3 seconds to shoot. Steven Adams got ready to race into the back court for Pritchard’s tip pass. Smart caught it instead and launched it from half court over the basket as Kemba Walker looked on along with the returning fans in shock.

Boston capsized following the miscue that epitomized the team’s general inconsistency, more than being a singularly important point in the game. Jayson Tatum started the night 4-for-4, blazing from the field around Robert Williams III high screen action for three early three-pointers. Fournier came off the bench and the C’s flashed defensive intensity by breaking up Williamson drives at the rim seven times.

The Pelicans stayed in the game behind a 10-of-16 start from three. Rookie Kira Lewis peppered Boston’s defense with three in the first half and Williamson kept his head down on the way to the rim, finish on two early second chance efforts to begin the second half despite meeting heavy resistance as Boston dripped and Williams III chased blocks.

The referees let ample contact go throughout the first quarter and quickly cracked down, catching Moe Wagner undercutting Josh Hart while chasing an offensive rebound and handing him free throws on the other end. Hart hit back-to-back threes after Aaron Nesmith missed a three and tossed an offensive rebound attempt to the Pelicans right into a transition run that separated them from the Celtics throughout the game. The Celtics, outside an early Williams III play on an Ingram three attempt that sent Tatum running for two, largely played slow.

Luke Kornet filled in to begin the second, flushing a pair of pick-and-pop threes, slamming home a rolling dunk through a foul and later finding Nesmith for three on the short roll. He’s 7-for-11 from the field to begin his Celtics career. Shooting proved a bigger issue for his fellow newcomer, Fournier, and the longest tenured C in Smart and the misses fed into Boston’s defensive woes, outscoring Boston 17-6 on the break.

Tatum’s 14-point start evaporated into six in the loss, trying to separate himself from Ingram’s tight defense in the fourth with his left arm that smacked Ingram across the face and drew a flagrant one foul in the third. Smart, after his own third quarter blunder, committed a flagrant foul on Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who scored 17 points.

The Celtics had squandered five of their first six possessions into the fourth quarter, Fournier fell to 0-for-9 and appeared uninvolved aside from a first half short roll pass to get Tatum and open three that he missed. Williamson set Alexander-Walker with a three, Ingram with a cutting layup then drew free throws to go ahead by double digits — two of New Orleans’ 30 to Boston’s 19.

Then Smart reappeared with three minutes remaining. He hit a driving layup, drew a charge on Zion, grabbed an offensive board and fed Tatum for two as Boston stormed back to within 110-102 on an 8-0 run. Fournier momentarily stalled momentum leaning into a three-point miss, the officials called a foul on Williams III’s box out of Steven Adams, but Adams missed both free throws and Walker made a pull-up two the other way that snuck over the rim.

Smart blanketed Zion on the other end and forced him to shoot off the side of the back board. Tatum carried the miss over half court and forced the ball inside to Rob, nearly turning it over before Williams regained control tip-toeing along the baseline and fired a pass to Tatum, who nailed a three to make it 110-107 four minutes after the Pelicans led by 13.

The run reached 15-0 and Ingram lined up Tatum, leaped back into his shot from in front of the three-point line and delivered. Smart, who tried to draw an offensive foul on Adams on the ensuing New Orleans in-bound pass, walked to the locker room 23 seconds early, ejected.

Smart and the 2021 Celtics, all in one.

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