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Evan Fournier catches fire against Rockets

The Frenchman hit a career-high seven three-pointers in a much needed win.

Houston Rockets v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Until last night, Evan Fournier’s career with the Celtics had been a series of misses. Heading into the trade deadline, it was his former Magic teammate, Aaron Gordon, who was the target for most fans. Instead, Danny Ainge spent the majority of the traded player exception (and two second round picks) on the French swingman.

Then, after getting his physical done in Boston and joining the team in Oklahoma City to close out the road trip, Fournier’s debut was delayed because of a false COVID positive test. Finally, to make matters worse, when he finally saw the floor at TD Garden, he missed all ten of his shots against the Pelicans.

After a subpar, six-point output against the Mavericks on Wednesday night, Fournier finally had his coming out party in green on Friday night versus Houston. In a torrid fourth quarter shooting display, Fournier lit up the Rockets and hit all seven of his shots (six three-pointers) en route to 23 points in just over 29 minutes of play.

To the casual viewer, it was a needed bounce back performance, but for the 28-year-old, it was just another game for the veteran.

“I always try and stay in the moment. Never too high, never too low. That’s been my motto for years now,” Fournier said, echoing a popular mindset of his new head coach, Brad Stevens. “I’ve played nine years in this league now. I know who I am and I know what I’m capable of doing, so obviously that first game against Nola was not the way I wanted to start with the Celtics, but it’s not going to define who I am with this team. I said it many times. I’m going to try to impact winning as much as I can and I’m really happy about the win tonight. Moving forward, I’m going to try and play as hard as I can and help the guys.”

Fournier comes to the Celtics averaging 19.7 points on 38.8% shooting from behind the arc in 26 games with Orlando. It’s arguably his best season as a pro and his reliability as a proven scorer in the NBA is a big reason why the Celtics gambled on trading for the future free agent this year.

At 24-25 and currently the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference, the goal is to get him up to speed with the team’s offensive and defensive schemes before making a run in the playoffs. Setting a career-high in three point makes is a good start, but with only twenty-three games left, there’s still work to be done.

“That’s going to be my challenge: how to play with the guys. I can do a lot of things on the court,” Fournier said. “When I understand what I should be doing and when I can anticipate things, it makes me a lot better because, especially for a shooter, you can set yourself and you can get open easier. You can get more open. The more I can understand what the guys are trying to do and how I’m going to get my shots, the better I will be.”

Fournier is a very respectable 40.4% on pull-up threes and 34.6% on catch-and-shoots this season. For now, that seems to be the part of the game that the Celtics are actively trying to unlock.

“Since Evan came, my big emphasis has been just to get him going. Obviously, being a new player and not being able to make a shot, it’s a relief when you can make them, so we kept feeding him. Once you hit one, you can hit four or five in a row and we need that for sure,” Robert Williams said after having the best game of his career, going a perfect 9-for-9 from the floor, grabbing nine rebounds, and dishing eight assists. Four of those dimes came during a two-minute stretch to open the final frame when Williams found Fournier for four straight triples.

“Every time the ball goes through the net, you feel better about life. The food will taste better tonight. We’ll all sleep better tonight. Sometimes when the ball goes through the net, it’s the dose that you need. I’m sure he feels much better. I give him a lot of credit. I can already tell that he’s not a guy that rides the emotional roller coaster. He’s a pretty even keel guy,” Stevens said.

Jayson Tatum echoed those sentiments. “Nobody was worried. Everybody knows the type of player Evan is and what he brings. We’ve all had off nights. It was just good to see him get his rhythm back. We know that he’s gonna be able to make plays and get his shots for us from here on out.”

With less than a third of the year to go, the Celtics hope that Fournier catching fire for one night is not just a bright spot in a relatively dark season. His hopefully accelerated acclimation along with the a roster that might be at full strength by next week with Tristan Thompson and Romeo Langford nearing a return from health and safety protocols could turn everything around. But as Fournier said, “stay in moment” and for one game, shots were finally going down.

“It feels good obviously, but it feels even better that we got the win. It’s my first win as a Celtic,” Fournier said. “It’s just a good overall night. I’m going to enjoy my glass of wine tonight and sleep very well.”

The Celtics host the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday night. It’s a homecoming of sorts for Terry Rozier, Brad Wanamaker, and of course, Gordon Hayward, the player that was eventually traded to create the TPE that brought Fournier to Boston.