NEW ORLEANS – Nothing seems to come easy for the Boston Celtics this season.
So as impressive as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were for most of Saturday’s 107-97 win against the lowly New Orleans Pelicans, you figured at some point the Celtics would allow them back into the game and make it closer than necessary.
True to form, the Celtics’ lead which peaked at 20 points, was down to single digits late in the third quarter.
However, the fourth quarter collapse that we’ve seen time and time again with this team, would not be.
Jayson Tatum wasn’t having it.
Neither was Jaylen Brown, who took turns down the stretch making shots similar to what we saw throughout the first three quarters of play.
But here’s the thing.
This Pelicans team isn’t very good.
It was the kind of game that Boston’s backups really should have been more impactful, especially with it coming on the back end of a back-to-back set of games.
But the Celtics, having lost the previous night in Atlanta, couldn’t afford to have their imperfections as a team snowball into back-to-back losses.
Well aware that they would have the day off on Sunday, the Celtics leaned on their two best players maybe a little more than they wanted to.
But in doing so, it was a reminder as to how fragile success is for this team. And how the more pressing issue for the Celtics has to do with its inferior depth.
Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds in Boston’s win over the New Orleans Pelicans which puts the Celtics (26-25) back above .500.
Jayson Tatum: There was a clear and undeniable control of the game that Jayson Tatum established from the outset, and never strayed too far away from as the game wore on. He finished with a strong Tatum-like game, scoring 38 points to go with eight rebounds and seven assists along with three steals.
Jaylen Brown: As impactful as Tatum was, Brown was doing his thing at both ends of the floor. What really stood out about Brown’s game, was that he was scoring at a highly efficient clip but not forcing the action, something he is guilty of from time to time on nights when he’s knocking down more shots than usual. Brown finished with 31 points on 11-for-20 shooting from the field.
Jose Alvarado: The former Georgia Tech guard who is on a two-way contract with the Pelicans, was an instant spark during each of his stints on Saturday. The Pelicans are one of the NBA’s worst teams record-wise, so opportunities are more abundant for players trying to break through like Alvarado. And the Brooklyn, New York native made the most of his chance to play on Saturday in tallying 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting from the field.
Marcus Smart: One of his best floor games this season, Smart made so many right decisions at the right time for Boston. And he limited his own shot-taking consistently, which is why he tallied just 5 points on 2-for-6 shooting from the field but dished out a season high-tying 11 assists.
Robert Williams III: Time Lord was right on time when it came to dominating the glass at both ends of the floor. And as a sign of his growth, Williams III took a 3-point attempt (he missed) as well. Even with the miss, that doesn’t diminish an impressive night for Robert Willliams who scored eight points to go with a game-high 16 rebounWilliamsds and four assists.
Celtics’ zone offense: We have talked about how much Boston has had trouble against zone defenses. And the Pelicans, true to form, gave Boston plenty of opportunities to dispel that belief. New Orleans spent the bulk of the game playing from behind. And while their zone defense didn’t turn the tide of the game how they wanted, it did prevent the Celtics from pulling away in a game Boston should have won with more ease than they did.
Dennis Schröder: He has had his share of bad games this season, but this one ranks among his worst. Put it this way. It’s never a good sign when you have as many points scored (4) as turnovers (4) despite playing less than 16 minutes. No surprise, Schröder finished with a team-worst plus-minus of minus-11.