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Boston Celtics overcome slow start, beat New Orleans Pelicans at home, 118-112

The Boston offense struggled for much of the night, but made plays when it mattered to score the home win

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Winners of 20 straight games at the TD Garden to start the season, the Boston Celtics have found themselves in a bit of a rut on their home court in recent weeks. After finally losing their streak in a hard fought battle against Denver earlier this month, they found themselves absolutely blitzed by the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday night to earn their second consecutive home loss. Staring down six more games in a row in Boston, they hosted the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday night looking to return to their dominant ways on the parquet floor. Though it didn’t always look easy, they pulled through, scoring a 118-112 victory to put themselves back in the win column at home.

The Celtics frontcourt faced a particular challenge this evening, as they lacked the services of Kristaps Porzingis (ankle) and Luke Kornet (hamstring). This left Al Horford and two-way center Neemis Queta as the only active bigs against a dangerous New Orleans duo of the athletic outlier Zion Williams and the skilled and physical Jonas Valanciunas. While Williamson tends to compile his numbers by default — he scored 26 — the Boston frontcourt held up more or less admirably. Valanciunas had a muted 11 points, and the teams were roughly even on the glass.

Jayson Tatum (28), Jaylen Brown (22) and Jrue Holiday (20) all surpassed the 20-point threshold on a night where the Celtics spent about three quarters of the game looking inept on the offensive end of the floor. They made plays when it mattered though, particularly Derrick White, who shrugged off a quiet night to make a sequence of game-clinching plays late in the fourth quarter to put the Celtics ahead for good.

In the first quarter, the ball just didn’t seem to want to find the bottom of the net for the Celtics. Everything seemed slightly out of whack, offensively, with the ball rimming out of open shots and players turning the ball over on miscommunicated actions. Celtics shooters couldn’t find a rhythm from three, shooting worse than 25% from distance in the quarter. Meanwhile, the Pelicans looked comfortable and played unselfishly, with every member of their starting lineup contributing as a scorer in the opening frame. The Celtics entered the second quarter trailing by 11, 36-25.

The punchless offense evolved from a slump to a trend as play resumed in the second quarter. Much as they did against the Clippers, the Celtics fired up a high volume of threes and converted on very few of them, and much as the Clippers did, the Pelicans began to surge. Their lead stretched as high as 15 in the early minutes of the quarter.

Unlike the Clippers game, however, the Celtics rallied. With Williamson looking tired and the Pelicans idling a bit, Boston rattled off a 10-2 run midway through the quarter to cut the lead back down to single digits. The three-point shooting didn’t necessarily correct itself, but the Celtics — particularly Tatum — found greater success attacking the basket. Tatum pushed his team-high scoring pace to 14, and the Celtics found themselves with at least a manageable deficit at the halftime break, trailing 60-50.

The early minutes of the third quarter saw a substantially more confident Celtics team. Behind a surge from Brown, they recorded another 10-2 run as play resumed, forcing Pelicans coach Willie Green to call a timeout just barely more than two minutes into the quarter. Brown and Holiday provided a shock to the system for the Boston offense, flying up the court in transition and scoring assertively. New Orleans’ lead was down to a single possession in the blink of an eye.

Momentum building, the Celtics retook the lead for the first time since the 10-minute mark of the first quarter on the strength of an 8-0 run. It was short-lived, though. After keeping the Pelicans off-balance for much of the quarter, some costly mistakes on the part of the Celtics helped them right the ship. The Pelicans put together a 12-3 run in the closing minutes of the quarter, and the Celtics entered the fourth trailing by six, 87-81.

Scoreless in the third quarter, having taken a backseat to Brown and Holiday, Tatum reemerged into the mix in the fourth. This wasn’t his most refined game — his seven turnovers led the team by far, the only Celtic with more than one — but he found a couple of tough buckets in the early minutes of the frame as the Celtics fought to keep New Orleans from pulling too far away. It was enough — the Celtics held the Pelicans stagnant, and mounted yet another 10-2 run to knot the game back up at the midway point of the frame.

As the clock ticked under six minutes to play, the two teams engaged in a bit of late-game tug-of-war. After a couple traded baskets, the Pelicans pushed ahead by two, only for the Celtics to respond with their splashiest sequence of the night. White drilled a three to put Boston ahead by one, then swiped a steal and found Tatum in transition for a dunk to ignite the TD Garden crowd. White wasn’t done making an impact — he converted a layup and answered a Trey Murphy three-pointer with one of his own to guide the Celtics to a 107-101 lead as the clock ticked down.

This was, effectively, the dagger sequence for the Celtics. The Pelicans seemed to shut down afterwards. Horford cashed in on a two-pointer and Boston converted a Williamson turnover into a layup for Tatum, and the Celtics suddenly led by eight with less than two minutes remaining. After a Pelicans timeout, Brown splashed a three-pointer to put the exclamation point on the win.

Up next, the Celtics round out the season series with a team they’ve seen a lot of this season: the Indiana Pacers, who visit the TD Garden for the teams’ fifth matchup of the year this Tuesday at 7:30 PM EST on TNT.

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