The Celtics were riding high after throttling Atlanta this past Wednesday. In tonight’s game, they played a New Orleans team that won three straight despite missing Zion Williamson. As the game tipped off, color commentator Brian Scalabrine said, “I’m worried about his game, I’m just being honest.” But as we’ve learned from his last five seasons on the broadcast, Scal is wrong more often than not, and Boston would win tonight’s game 117-109 as they welcomed back Malcom Brogdon.
The Celtics hit 10 first-quarter three pointers and led 40-25 in front of a packed Smoothie King Arena. It was one shy of the record for threes in a quarter. Tatum, Brown, and Horford scored 30 of the team’s first 32 points as Boston shot 62.5 percent and collected 12 assists.
The Celtics scored on their opening two possessions of the 2nd quarter but proceeded to go cold. The defensive intensity waned, then a CJ McCollum three at the 7:14 mark capped a 15-2 run, and the Celtics led 47-42 after previously leading by 18. They eventually got it back up to a double digits on the back of Derrick White’s 14 first-half points and a pair of athletic finishes from Jaylen.
McCollum hit a floater to beat the buzzer and the Celtics led 67-57 at half. The Pelicans shot 67 percent in the second quarter and were led by Brandon Ingram’s 16 first-half points and Jose Alvarado’s typically pesky two-way presence. Tatum and Brown combined for 27 points and 9 assists and the Celtics played impeccable basketball aside from the four minute stretch where they allowed New Orleans back into the game. They hit 14 threes but relinquished 34 points in the paint.
The high scoring first half turned into a brick fest to open the second. Each team missed their first four shots, but the Celtics went ahead by 16 after Horford up-faked Jonas Valanciunas and hit a one-dribble pull-up. The team played sloppy, turning the ball over a ghastly 9 times in the quarter after only having 3 in the first half. But Sam Hauser and Derrick White hit back-to-back threes and they led by 19 at the 3:00 mark.
Larry Nance jr. was disruptive whenever he got playing time, and after converting on a fastbreak dunk with two minutes remaining, Ingram forced a steal, Devonte Graham hit a fast break three, then Naji Marshall hit a wide open three to cut the Celtics lead to 9. The score was 89-78 going into the final frame. Tatum went scoreless in the quarter while White scored 10 points on 3/6 shooting.
After an uneventful start to the fourth, defensive ace Herb Jones forced two straight turnovers that led to two finishes at the rim, then Ingram hit a three to cut Boston’s lead to six — the closest margin since early in the 2nd quarter. But on the next possession, Grant Williams hit a huge corner three and Horford converted on a fast break dunk the next play to put Boston back up 11.
Jaylen hit an elbow jumper, then after missing a layup in heavy traffic, he got two consecutive offensive rebounds and finished over three Pelicans defenders. A few minutes later, he got stripped by Herb, then Nance converted on an open dunk and the score was 107-100 with 2:29 to play. The next possession, Tatum seemingly lost the ball while driving through the paint, but it found Grant Williams for an open layup.
The Celtics could have ended the game with a stop and a score, but the smallest guy on the floor – Alvardo – grabbed an offensive rebound, got fouled, then hit two free throws. Nance got called for an offensive foul with 39 seconds to play, essentially sealing it for Boston, who won the game 117-109.
Derrick White finished with 27 points on 9 of 12 shooting while adding 2 steals and 2 blocks. Jaylen Brown veered into triple double territory, scoring 27 points with 10 rebounds and 7 assists. Tatum struggled from the field, shooting 6 of 18, but he dished out a season high 10 assists. Brandon Ingram led the way with 25 for the Pelicans, while Nance and McCollum added 16 and 18 respectively.
Next up, the Celtics travel to Chicago to take on the Bulls at 8:00 on Monday.