BOSTON — With the Boston Celtics rolling out a depleted lineup Monday night at TD Garden, an opportunity was seemingly in the Pelicans’ palms to seize momentum from an Eastern Conference favorite that appears to finally be putting it all together.
Anthony Davis (41 points, seven rebounds) and Julius Randle (20, 11) mostly had their way offensively against a Celtics frontcourt missing their top two big men in Al Horford and Aron Baynes. But even against a backcourt missing superstar Kyrie Irving, the Pelicans had no solution to handcuffing Boston’s dribble-penetration frenzy, as they fell to the Celtics for the second time in as many weeks, 113-100, the second leg of their back-to-back after beating the Pistons on Sunday.
“They (the Celtics) took the ball wherever they wanted. We just couldn’t keep them in front,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “I thought that was the biggest key of the game because then we always had our bigs stepping up and rotating, and they took advantage of that. Or, they were rolling down the lane and we had to pull in and they were passing up for 3-point shots.
“The bottom line is, we didn’t do a very good job of containing the ball, and that was the difference in the game.”
With missing E’Twuan Moore, getting just seven minutes out of Nikola Mirotic before an ankle injury sidelined him, and with Davis playing after being listed as questionable earlier in the day (hip contusion), the Pelicans (14-15) nonetheless struggled to slow down the Celtics’ duo of Jayson Tatum and Marcus Morris. The two combined to shoot 64 percent from the floor and total nearly half of Boston’s scoring total (51).
“We had guys out too, but we had enough guys where we should’ve won the game,” Davis said. “They (the Celtics) did a good job, they’re gonna play hard no matter who’s on the floor. They did the same thing last year, we knew what we were in for. No matter who’s on the floor, we’ve got to be able to come out with a win."
When these two teams met in New Orleans back on Nov. 26, Boston combated the Pelicans’ frontcourt advantage with a clinic from the 3-point line, connecting on 19 of 39 triples in a 124-107 decision that kick-started the Celtics’ current five-game win streak.
Monday, the Celtics came out connecting on just 2 of 12 first-quarter 3's, and just 4 of 16 for the opening half, but gave the Pelicans all sorts of problems both on the perimeter and on the boards.
Shreveport native Robert Williams out-rebounded Davis 11-7 despite playing nearly 15 less minutes. The rookie reserve out of Texas A&M also had a memorable stuff of Davis going to the rim late in the first quarter that elicited one of the loudest pops of the night from the Garden crowd.
“He (Davis) still had 41,” Gentry reminded reporters, with a laugh. “I think everybody’s gotten their shot blocked at one time or another.”
After Davis slammed home a lob from Holiday to tie it at 19, the Celtics finished the final four minutes of the first quarter on a 9-2 run, punctuated with Williams’ swat.
Tatum’s drive and slam that made it 46-37 midway through the second sparked a scoring flurry from Davis, who responded with three straight baskets and a free throw to cut Boston’s lead to eight. Holiday’s 28-foot 3-pointer cut the Celtics’ lead to 59-53 at the break.
The Celtics came out en fuego to start the second half, first getting back-to-back-to-back three-pointers from Morris that extended their lead to double digits. Tatum then extended the lead to 72-57 with one of his prettiest finishes of the night, spinning through two defenders and tipping in his own rebound.
New Orleans never cut the lead to less than 11 in the final frame, Davis driving home a reverse layup to make it 92-81 with nine minutes remaining. The Celtics outscored the Pelicans 30-28 for the final frame.
“It was an opportunity we missed,” Randle said. “They’re a really talented team in a really great system, without some of their top guys. I’m not trying to take anything away from the guys they had out there on the court — they did a great job.”