Boston (11-10): 124 – New Orleans (10-11): 104
Kyrie Irving: 26 PTS 5 REB 10 AST 5 STL
Jayson Tatum: 20 PTS 7 REB 1 AST 3 STL 1 BLK
Al Horford: 20 PTS 4 REB 3 AST 3 STL 1 BLK
Marcus Morris: 19 PTS 11 REBS 3 ASTS
Anthony Davis: 27 PTS 16 REB 8 AST 2 STL
Nikola Mirotic: 25 PTS 5 REB
Jrue Holiday: 13 PTS 6 REB 7 AST 3 STL 1 BLK
In one of their best games of the season, the Celtics traveled to New Orleans to face off against the Pelicans a the Smoothie King Center (worst arena name ever). With Jaylen Brown out, Marcus Smart stepped in at the other guard positon, while Marcus Morris held down the 4 again. The energy was different from what we’ve seen right from the start. Highlighted by a couple of Morris jumpers and quality ball movement, the Celtics jetted out to a 10-2 lead. Their defense was the catalyst for their early success, forcing 8 first quarter Pelican turnovers (22 turnovers for the game), en route to 11 points off of said turnovers in the quarter. The ball pressure was fantastic (especially by Smart) as he was involved in 7 Pelican turnovers, even though he only tallied 1 steal of his own. Al paced the Celtic’s scoring with 12 in the frame, on a smooth 5-7 from the floor. Kyrie did a little bit of everything early as he had 5 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, and a block in the first. He even had some highlight reel material as he fed Al for a big dunk and hit a very difficult 3 off of a poor pass in the corner.
To cap things off, Terry Rozier beat the buzzer on a cold three ball off of a pass from Gordon Hayward, from the top of the key, to end the first. The Celtics closed the quarter leading 34-21 in one of their best quarters of the season, on both sides of the ball.
In the second, on top of some exceptional defensive possessions, and quality offense, the Celtics went on an 8-0 run to push the lead to 20 at 46-26. Now this is around the point in time where it became clear that Nikola Mirotic is indeed the MVP of the entire NBA and should be addressed as such. He started to percolate, hitting 5-6 threes in the frame leading to 19 second quarter points. He was pulling up from everywhere and not only was it quite the spectacle, but it kept the Pelicans in the game. He’s given the Celtics FITS his entire career and tonight was no different. In a half where Anthony Davis was regularly flustered on offense (3-9 and 3 turnovers in the first half), Mirotic came up huge in giving the Pelicans a chance to get back into the game. For the Celtics, Marcus Smart led the charge hitting 2 threes as 8 different players contributed a point in the quarter. The Celtics had weathered the Mirotic storm (for now) and went into halftime with a 57-48 lead.
The third was a bit frightening to start. After an E’Twaun Moore three (that wasn’t contested whatsoever), the Pelicans got the lead down to 6 at 59-53. If you have fun calculating runs, check my math, since the green led 46-26 (8:06 in the second) they had given up a 27-13 run at 10:40 left in the third. That’s nearly a quarter stretch of bad basketball and another example of the Celtics blowing a big lead. Luckily, Marcus Morris still exists, and he hit back to back threes to clap back at the Pelicans. Mix in a Kyrie layup off of a sweet right to left crossover to split the double team, and the Celtics built their lead back up to 14. While the Pelicans were responding to every Celtic make, Anthony Davis still could not find any sort of rhythm offensively (1-5 in the third). It’s clear the Celtics made an effort to contain him as best they could and they did a really nice job of having him be a team assignment, rather than a player assignment. It takes a team effort to stop somebody as dominant as Davis they responded.
An 89-79 advantage to start the quarter set the Celtics up with a chance to close it out and get back on track. After 3 quarters of some lackluster basketball, AD was on a mission in the fourth scoring 14 points on 4-6 from the floor. It made the Celtic task of closing it out more difficult, but the combination of Kyrie (10 pts) and Tatum (8 pts), were up for the challenge. Sprinkle in a couple of Horford threes/some Mook stuff and the Celtics had the recipe. The Pelicans only got as close as 6 in the quarter, as the Celtics finished it off, sealing the victory 124-107.
- Defense. That was the story tonight and it should be the story every night for a team with so many weapons on that end. They forced 22 turnovers and scored 32 points off of those turnovers as their active hands gave New Orleans trouble.
- After their last game, Marcus Smart questioned this team’s toughness and pointed out that teams don’t fear them anymore. Kyrie also added that their “Youth should be (their) advantage” and that they shouldn’t be easing into games. Last night, they didn’t ease into it (10-2 run to start) and it paid dividends in the form of a W.
- The focus on Anthony Davis was a bright spot. After his fourth quarter outburst, his numbers looked like they usually would. The real story here though, is the Celtic defense on him through the first three quarters as they held him to 13 points on just 4-13 shooting combined. He was 1-5 when covered by Baynes in the game and Al did an exceptional job as well forcing him into 4 turnovers.
- On the offensive side of the ball, this is what we expected this team to look like at their best. 3 guys had at least 20 points (Irving, Tatum, Horford) and Morris was right there with them as he had 19 points of his own. The ball moved efficiently (27 assists) and everybody contributed something on that end of the floor.
- While they did play well the runs they keep letting up are concerning. They had the lead up to 20 twice in the game and both times the Pelicans whittled it down to 6. This is still an issue and needs to be fixed sooner rather than later.
- Al Horford had his best game of the season last night in my opinion. He was active on defense, as I said before, and was a staple on offense scoring the basketball. He’s struggled shooting this season so a 3-4 mark from downtown is welcome sight.
- I really liked the insertion of Smart into the lineup for Jaylen. Honestly, I’d be inclined to start the combo of Smart/Morris more as their energy is what kicked this team into high gear early.
Player(s) of the Game: Marcus Morris & Marcus Smart
I don’t usually do multiple players of the game, but, these two were both key factors in the win last night. In the starting lineup, as Hayward’s been relegated to the bench and Jaylen Brown was out, Morris and Smart stepped in. They brought an aspect of toughness and grit that has been absent from the Celtics to start, as of late. Morris has been scoring at will all season no matter what his role has been. It was on display in this one as he iced a few Pelican runs with some offense of his own on some tough shots. Smart on the other hand, gave the Celtics some stout defense out of the backcourt. Opponents covered by Smart scored only 10 points on 6-15 shooting and committed 7 turnovers (5 of which by Jrue Holiday). Smart can cover any guard in this league and I’d expect his minutes to start to creep above 25 per night if this type of play continues. These two were exactly what the doctor ordered for the Celtics and their contributions cannot be overstated.
The Celtics get the next 3 days off as they don’t play until Friday 11/30, against the Cleveland Cavaliers (4-15), at 7:00 pm ET in Boston.
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