Jaylen Brown and CJ McCollum traded buckets Wednesday night, putting on a show and carrying their respective teams with impressive efficiency.
The scrappy, shorthanded Pelicans – playing without stars Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram – didn’t make it easy, but the Celtics’ depth and shooting were simply too much for New Orleans to handle.
Boston played its best basketball when it mattered most to earn a 125-114 win at TD Garden.
Jayson Tatum added 31, Malcolm Brogdon 20, and Al Horford 14 for the Celtics, who shot 48.4 percent on the evening. That’s four straight wins and eight of 10 for the team with the NBA’s best record. Boston has averaged 119.3 points in the last four and has returned to form after a somewhat rocky stretch in early December.
Horford came out firing in the first quarter, hitting three 3-pointers in the first five minutes. Brown was also aggressive, and Derrick White added four of his six assists as the Celtics built a 35-32 edge through one.
There was just one problem: McCollum couldn’t miss. He scored 11 in the first and 11 more in the second, hitting 8-of-11 field goals and 6-of-7 3’s in the half. New Orleans shot a blistering 60 percent from distance as a team before halftime, but fortunately for the Celtics, Brown and Tatum continued to sizzle.
Brown finished the half with 18 points and 10 boards – needing only two quarters to secure his first double-double since Dec. 21. Tatum, who added 14 in the half, ignited a 9-0 run to start the second quarter with a 3 and a dunk. The Celtics and Pelicans – namely McCollum – traded buckets from there, and Boston took a 64-58 edge into halftime.
Both teams shot 50 percent or better before the break, but the Celtics held a commanding 27-15 edge on the glass. With Marcus Smart and Robert Williams out, the Celtics started White, Brown, Tatum, Grant Williams and Horford. The pieces fit together perfectly, as the Celtics combined physicality and finesse.
In the second half, McCollum continued to have one of those performances where it seems like every shot he took was destined to fall. He stayed hot in the third, but Brogdon carried the Celtics in the quarter with a series of step backs.
JAYLEN BROWN ON A DIFFERENT LEVEL TONIGHT pic.twitter.com/Q1icF40qcb— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) January 12, 2023
The Celtics continued to play with energy overall, but on one play, Tatum didn’t run back on defense and complained to the officials for a lack of a call. The crowd implored him to get back, but he remained near the Celtics’ hoop and the Pelicans scored.
It ended up not mattering much, as Brown poured in bucket after bucket. He relentlessly attacked the rim and burned the Pelicans with spin moves, post-ups, fadeaways and more. He upped his total to 36 through 3, helping the Celtics extend the margin to 97-85.
The Pelicans sliced it to 107-98, but Tatum and Williams scored back-to-back buckets to push the margin back to 13 with 6:37 remaining.
Tatum buried a 3 with 2:43 remaining to put the Celtics firmly in command. The Pelicans ran out of juice as Brown and Co. pulled away.
It was Brown’s night, and he and his teammates didn’t squander it.