Not the return of the team’s franchise player, not Nikola Mirotic’s sharp-shooting second quarter, not even a 27-point, 16-rebound performance from said franchise player — Anthony Davis — could mask the New Orleans Pelicans’ slow, sluggish start at home against the Boston Celtics on Monday.
Both teams entered with identical 10-10 records, the Pelicans losers of three straight while the Celtics had dropped four of five. But it was Boston’s deeper, more experienced lineup that withstood a late charge from New Orleans, picking up a 124-107 win at the Smoothie King Center.
Mirotic trailed Davis with 25 points off 6-for-11 shooting from 3-point range, including a 5-for-6 tear in the second quarter to tie a franchise-best mark in a single quarter. The Celtics, though, countered with four players scoring at least 19 points, led by Kyrie Irving, who finished with 26, shooting 10 for 12 from the field and 5 for 10 from beyond the arc.
As a team, the Celtics shot 19 for 39 from 3-point range, a known strength of a team that came to New Orleans averaging the fourth-most 3s made in the NBA. But the Pelicans’ carelessness with the basketball helped one of the slowest teams in the league push it Monday, out-pacing the second-highest scoring offense.
Much of that came by New Orleans’ own demise, as the squad recorded 22 turnovers that led to 32 Boston points. The Celtics also scored 18 fastbreak points and 18 on second-chance opportunities.
“I didn’t think we were trying to do anything too difficult or hard,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “They were playing the passing lanes, and we made some bad decisions.”
The Pelicans fell behind as many as 15 points in the first quarter alone, turnover woes plaguing them early. As a team, they committed eight in the first 12 minutes, with Jrue Holiday committing five himself, struggling as the team’s primary ballhandler without injured starting point guard Elfrid Payton.
New Orleans’ deficit ballooned to 20 early in the second, with Mirotic’s long-range jumper reeling them back within nine by halftime. The 2011 first-round pick knocked down a pair of 3s in the Pelicans’ 8-0 run over 1:43 to close the first half. Mirotic knocked down his sixth 3 with 8:33 left in the third to keep New Orleans within 67-58, but the Celtics ran off on a 13-2 run in just 3:35.
A furious 6-0 run in the final 47 seconds of the third quarter again made it a game, and a pair of Anthony Davis free throws with 8:49 left brought the Pelicans within six, but the home team would inch no closer, with fans filing out in droves with two minutes left, Boston safely ahead by 14.
“When we make runs to try and get even and then try to get over the hump, we’ve got to get the game in a working situation, so that when we make runs, it turns to leads,” Gentry said. “You can’t be in a position where we make a 10-2 run, and now we’re only down eight. That won’t work in our league.”
Celtics starters Jason Tatum and Al Horford each added 20 points, and the pair finished a combined 5 for 9 from beyond the arc. Marcus Morris followed with a double-double of 19 points and 11 rebounds.
Julius Randle came off the bench for 15 points, going 9 for 10 from the charity stripe while adding energy in the Pelicans’ late-quarter pushes. Holiday finished with 13 points, seven assists and six rebounds to go with eight turnovers.