In the first half, it looked like the Celtics might once again be finding a way to lose to a team they should beat. They trailed the New Orleans Pelicans by 18 in the second quarter, and the crowd was quiet at the Martin Luther King Day matinee at TD Garden.
But the C’s lately have been figuring out how to win, and they did it again behind Jayson Tatum’s 27 points (21 in the second half) and 23 each from Jaylen Brown and Dennis Schroder. Final score, 104-92.
The Pelicans came in at 16-27 and 13th in the West, clearly missing Zion Williamson, who has yet to play this season due to a foot injury.
Marcus Smart remained in the health & safety protocols, and Robert Williams was a late scratch for personal reasons (his girlfriend was giving birth). Thus, the starting five was a single-big lineup with the Jays, Al Horford, Grant Williams and Dennis Schroder.
But it was a slow start. The Pels jumped ahead 8-2, forcing Ime Udoka to call timeout after less than 3 minutes. It didn’t help. The deficit grew to 17-6 as New Orleans pushed the pace and attacked the hoop, while Boston was missing from outside.
Then Grant stopped the bleeding with a personal 8-point burst — two triples and a fastbreak dunk off a Josh Richardson steal. Just as quickly, the Pelicans grabbed control back. Nickeil Alexander-Walker drilled consecutive threes to key a 12-2 run that closed the quarter. The Celtics did not make a field goal over the final 4:53, and trailed 29-18.
Jonas Valanciunas swished a three (he does that now) to open the second quarter. The Cs finally scored a field goal on a Horford putback, meaning they had gone more than 7 minutes of game time without making a shot.
The futility continued as the Celtics kept settling for threes and missing. An 8-0 run ballooned the Pelicans’ lead to 42-24 and the Garden crowd was restless. Finally, the Celtics answered with their own run of 15-4, highlighted by Horford’s activity (2 assists, a dunk and a three in the final 4:11).
The ugly halftime stats: Celtics 15/40 (37.5%) and 5/21 from the arc, with just 9 assists and 4/4 free throws. The Pels actually weren’t much better: 16/41 and 5/17, with 10 assists and 9/9 at the line. Brown and Brandon Ingram each led their squads with 11 points.
In the third, Boston got within 2 points several times, but the Pelicans would not give up the lead. Valanciunas dropped 8 points and Herbert Jones drained a pair of threes in early minutes to spark New Orleans. But the Celts persisted. Tatum (10 points in the quarter) spun to the hoop for a layup and Schroder (9 in the quarter) drilled a transition triple to give the Cs their first lead of the game. Boston led 71-69 going to the fourth.
Tatum, feeling it now, swished a three and finished an and-one, then stole a pass for an uncontested slam and an 80-71 lead. When Enes Freedom blocked Ingram’s drive, Tatum led a fast break and delivered a perfect pass to Aaron Nesmith for a dunk and a foul. Jaylen’s floater then extended the margin to 93-76. Schroder scored the next 7 Boston points and the Cs cruised home.
The Celtics will continue their four-game home stand with a visit from the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night, 7:30 p.m. EST on ESPN and NBC Sports Boston.
For more postgame coverage of the Celtics MLK Day win, tune into the Garden Report Postgame Show LIVE on CLNS Media right after the game. Join A. Sherrod Blakely, Bobby Manning, Josue Pavon, Jimmy Toscano and host John Zannis for a full breakdown. Plus, the guys will discuss how the Celtics turned the game around.