It’s “obvious,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said before his team played the Celtics on Monday, when a team is playing hard, when it’s competing the way it should.
On Monday night, it was clear that New Orleans was not.
Boston controlled the final three quarters at the Smoothie King Center, largely with effort plays, and routed the Pelicans 111-93.
“They played a lot harder than we did,” Gentry said. “They competed and they played together and moved the basketball, and we didn’t. When you don’t against a team like that, you get your ass kicked at home.”
One game after a stirring home win against the Cavaliers on Friday, New Orleans (5-16) looked out of sorts all night against Boston, which was crisper on offense, more determined on defense and quicker to loose balls.
“The scouting report was that they’re going to play hard,” Pelicans forward Anthony Davis said. “They’re physical, and we weren’t matching their physicality or their intensity. We did OK in the first quarter, and after that, we stopped playing.
Davis had 16 points but shot 8-for-21 and had only six rebounds. He didn’t attempt a free throw, the first time since his rookie season that he played more than 13 minutes and didn’t get to the foul line. The Pelicans were outscored by a team-high 24 points when Davis was on the floor.
Meanwhile, as Boston’s starting backcourt of Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley combined for 33 points, nine assists and two turnovers on 12-for-21 shooting, Pelicans’ starting guards Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon went scoreless with five assists and six turnovers, shooting 0-for-7.
Ryan Anderson scored 18 points to lead the Pelicans and tied Alexis Ajinca with a team-high nine rebounds.
Thomas scored 22 points and Kelly Olynyk had 21 to lead five Celtics in double-digit scoring. Jared Sullinger had 11 points and tied a career high with 20 rebounds.
New Orleans pulled as close as 11 points late in the third, cutting the lead to 75-64 with 1:54 to play in the quarter on Dante Cunningham’s 3-pointer, and trailed 81-67 entering the fourth quarter. The Pelicans pulled within 10 on a Cunningham layup early in the fourth, but Boston answered with an 18-8 run to take a 99-79 lead.
“They got all the loose balls, outrebounded us,” Davis said. “They were more physical, worked harder. They played like they wanted this game more.”
That was disappointing for New Orleans on multiple levels.
For starters, the Celtics’ effort was a point of emphasis, Davis and Gentry said, leading up to the game. Gentry made the importance of playing hard “very clear,” he said. He insisted the Celtics wouldn’t beat themselves.
The message apparently wasn’t received.
The Pelicans looked out of sorts and a step slow. They stretched for loose balls the Celtics dove to the floor to retrieve. Three times, New Orleans defenders fouled Boston shooters on 3-point attempts.
“They came out there, and they felt like they’re at home,” Evans said. “They’re pressuring us and we can’t even really get into sets, turning the ball over. They did what we’re supposed to do. They swung the ball, (got) open shots. They played together and they played hard. We didn’t do that.”
The game was disappointing, too, in that it came on the heels of Friday’s win against the Cavaliers. Gentry lamented that his team continues to take “a step forward and a step back.”
“We talked about having good games against the Spurs, Phoenix twice, Cleveland,” Davis said. “Then we come out against a team that’s good and plays hard, and we just act like we don’t care.”
It’s not the first time effort has come up as an issue for the Pelicans.
“We shouldn’t be talking about this. We all get paid to play basketball and compete at a high level. I don’t know why we keep having to talk about it. Unfortunately we do. We got to all look in the mirror, including me, and figure out what kind of team we want to be. Do we want to be a team that competes hard every night and win games or continue to have games like this?”