Celtics outlast the Pelicans 104-97 and avoid the trap loss

In the first of their final 5 games of the regular season, our Boston Celtics squared off against the New Orleans Pelicans. It was announced before the game that Evan Turner would sit it out, so going in we knew our 2nd unit in particular would be undermanned. However, we were facing a team that was just overall undermanned and heading in the opposite direction as the C's, as illustrated by this pregame Sean Grande tweet.

Combining the success of the recent road trip with the fact that we play the Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, and Charlotte Hornets after the Pelicans, this had the smell of a possible trap game if Boston didn't come out with focus. For the majority of the first half that smell was pungent, and every time the Celtics started to pull away in the 2nd half it wafted right back under their noses.

The first quarter ended with the C's up 23-17, and it was pretty ugly for both sides. The Celtics shot 36% despite getting great looks, but had 9 assists in the first frame. New Orleans on the other hand played sloppy as hell with 8 turnovers in the quarter. Isaiah Thomas put up 7 to lead all scorers.

That lethargic tone continued into the 2nd quarter, with the 2nd group struggling a bit without Evan Turner. Brad Stevens went super small and unorthodox in response to the lack of ET.

The Pelicans took back their lead on a 3 pointer with 5:40 remaining, but the C's followed that up with a 10-3 run that happened to coincide with Isaiah Thomas being sent back into the game. They closed the half strong, literally down to the last second thanks to an IT sprint for a buzzer beating layup, and went into the break up 53-45. Isaiah led the C's with 16 points and 4 assists in the half, and Marcus Smart added 9 points on a promising 4-6 shooting. New Orleans actually shot better from the field than Boston, but finished the half with 13 turnovers. Their lone spark was from former Maine Red Claw, Tim Frazier.

The Celtics started the 2nd half in business mode, pushing the lead to 16 in just 3 minutes of play. Much like the first half, some timely 3's for New Orleans kept the game from getting out of reach. A 9-0 run by the Pelicans was punctuated by a James Ennis put-back slam that cut the lead to 3, but once again Isaiah bailed out the C's. He hit a 3 to stop the run, then followed it up with a pair of free throws to go on a personal 5-0 run and steady the Celtic ship.

His teammates hopped aboard as well and pushed the run to 11-0 on a Jonas Jerebko 3 pointer that came off of a great Marcus Smart defensive rebound, making it 76-62. That 14 point lead was short lived, like every lead the Celtics had carved out to this point. New Orleans continued to show a lot of brass (boom) and cut the lead to 3 by the end of the quarter.

The Pelicans tied the game up at 76 a piece on a 3 to start the 4th that capped a 14-0 run. After trading some hoops the game was still tied with 8 minutes left, 84-84. Tyler Zeller finished a layup off a beautiful Marcus Smart pass to go up a deuce with 7:30 left, and Isaiah re-entered the game. After front rimming a 3 and throwing an ill advised pass to Jae Crowder that was picked off, you wondered if they had gone to the Isaiah well one too many times this evening, as he had already put up 25 points and 6 assists in 27 minutes, as well as being relied on more heavily than usual in those minutes.

Tied again at 86-86, it became a 6 minute game. These six minutes were a total see-saw battle between the two teams. Isaiah got to the line and went 1-2 to give Boston a 1 point lead. The C's got a steal on the ensuing possession and IT fumbled a Smart pass on a 3 on 1 that instead led to no points. Isaiah kept working though as off of yet another Celtic steal he drove the lane and got fouled. This time he went 2-2 to take a 3 point lead that was erased by a Toney Douglas drive and finish for a 3 point play the old fashioned way making it 89-89, the 8th tie of the game.

That tie was broken by Isaiah again (surprise) as he absorbed a bump and still finished with the right hand, but the C's yet again could not pull away as 2 New Orleans free throws knotted the game at 91-91 with 3 minutes remaining. Jared Sullinger hit 2 big free throws before Luke Babbitt gave the game its 10th tie of the night at 93 each with a baseline jumper. Avery Bradley broke that tie with a jumper, and the Celtics finally strung a couple hoops together after a Marcus Smart air ball 3 point attempt was caught and put back by Jae Crowder to take a 4 point lead. Yep, it was that kind of night. Isaiah corralled a defensive rebound on the ensuing possession, got fouled, knocked down 2 more free throws (his 7th and 8th of the night), and the lead was 6 points with 1:23 left.

A Tim Frazier backdoor cut for a layup cut it to 4, then a New Orleans steal led to transition with the chance to cut the lead to 2 before Amir Johnson had the play of the night with a BIG TIME swat on a Luke Babbitt layup attempt. That led to an Avery Bradley 3, his first of the night, that put the lead at 7 with 32 seconds left and sealed the W.

New Orleans showed a lot of heart in this game. They were on a back to back, they lost to Philadelphia last night, and they are so thin due to injuries. They still outrebounded the Celtics, and had an impressive 6 different players (James Ennis, Alexis Ajinca, Toney Douglas, Luke Babbitt, Tim Frazier, and Jordan Hamilton) score in double digits.

For the Celtics the story was Isaiah Thomas. He finished with 32 points, 8 assists, and 4 rebounds, and every Celtic run happened while he was on the court. Unfortunately every single New Orleans run happened with him off of it, and that shows not just his importance, but also that of Evan Turner, whom the 2nd unit really struggled without. Marcus Smart finished with 11 points, 4 assists, and 4 rebounds as well as some great defense, blocks, and steals. Jae Crowder chipped in 14, and Avery Bradley added 13 as well. The win gives the C's 17 out of their last 19 at home, and for IT that is 17 straight games with at least 20 points.

The Celtics definitely got away with playing a less than stellar game tonight, and they certainly relied too much on Isaiah Thomas, but that is somewhat expected without Turner. Take the W and move on. Four more to go.

Top Photo Credit: Boston Celtics/@celtics

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