Recap: Celtics outshot, out-muscled by Zion and the Pelicans (123-108)


The Celtics’ matchup against the Pelicans unfolded in muted fashion, under the shadow of Kobe Bryant’s untimely death in a helicopter accident, alongside his daughter Gianna and eight other passengers.

May they rest in peace.

Not surprising. As the quarter progressed, both teams showed more energy, albeit mostly on offense alone, with the Celtics shooting much less effectively than the Pelicans. And then:

Today is hellworld, I guess.

There were intermittent moments of excitement…

But they were hard to enjoy as every Boston player save Daniel Theis seemed unable to buy a shot in the quarter (Kemba Walker went 0-6, Gordon Hayward 2-6). NOLA rode hot shooting from deep by Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holidayβ€”not to mention the brawn of Zion Williamsonβ€”into a 16-4 run and a 32-20 lead after 12 minutes.

Crisis averted.

Defense on Boston’s part amped up a bit in the second frame, as noted above, and Kemba’s shot started falling…but New Orleans’ offense stayed hot.

Also, Zion. I feel like I’m going to be typing that a lot in the months and years to come.

The Pelicans simply had more urgency on both ends, and a distinct size advantage over a Celtics squad that didn’t have Tatum and Enes Kanter active (not to mention Timelord, who isn’t due back until mid-February).

But mostly the Pels had high-effort possessions like this, which the Cs really didn’t have:

I began to wonder if Boston was starting to view this as a scheduled lossβ€”or perhapsΒ fait accompli is a more accurate phrase in contextβ€”before the second half even came to a close (with a 60-42 lead for New Orleans). It would be somewhat understandable, if decidedly less than fun to watch.

Aside from the deficit and the undeniable mistakes/listlessness that engendered it, two questionable calls in quick succession didn’t help matters:

The first real surge the Celtics had in the second half came sometime around the 9:00 mark: Jaylen Brown muscled out some tough buckets, Kemba notably killed a major Pelicans fastbreak play to ultimately facilitate a Brown triple and Hayward had a superb running dunk…which still had them down 18.

NOLA just kept hitting shots, many of them from three-point land. The deficit stayed in the 15-20 range throughout most of the quarter, in part because Boston got into the penalty well before Q3 was even half over.

In the frame’s final minutes the Celtics began to actively threaten the Pelicans’ lead. Walker (who would end the game with a 35-5-4-2-1 line ) was a big reason why, but so was careful planning and execution:

91-81 Pelicans at the Q3 buzzer.

Hayward took the lead entering the fourth with consecutive layups:

He’d finish with another strong game (23-6-2-1).

Things were starting to look a little better for the Celtics, but they still couldn’t get enough stops to narrow or surpass the Pelicans lead in the final frame’s first half…and New Orleans also wouldn’t stop making shots. (45% from deep.)

So was the gigantic goddamn force of nature known as Zion, and the complete lack of second-unit scoring. (Walker and Hayward had big numbers, but beyond those, Jaylen’s 20 points and Theis’s 15-9-1-02 line, everyone else was in the low single digits.) Despite the extended bursts of good basketball in the second half, the Celtics’ early troubles put them in too big a hole for them to escape.

Box score

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