Celtics get back on track with win over Pelicans: 8 takeaways


Kristaps Porzingis was dominant at the rim and Jaylen Brown matched up well against Zion Williamson in the win.

Jaylen Brown more than held his own against Zion Williamson on Saturday, particularly in the second half. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The Celtics dominated the second half against the Pelicans on Saturday and held off a late charge for a 104-92 win. 

Here are the takeaways.

1. Celtics fans, is everyone a little more calm today?

The Pelicans were without Brandon Ingram, but they have been a good team in his absence this season (+5.3 points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass). The Celtics put together a dominant third quarter, allowing just 11 points on 4-for-23 shooting as they took a lead that stretched as high as 22. No one was overly dominant individually save for Kristaps Porzingis around the rim (four blocked shots, two steals, numerous shots altered), but the Celtics’ starters were all solid playing within their roles, and they shot 15-for-37 as a team from 3-point range. 

We will say it for the third game in a row: Celtics fans shouldn’t expect perfection down the stretch in the regular season. There may be games that slip away because the team is on cruise control, and hitting the gas hard doesn’t make sense until the postseason arrives. 

But there will probably also be plenty of games like Sunday evening, when the Celtics take on a solid team and still beat them because the cruise control of a sports car is still a lot faster than the average sedan. 

2. The Pelicans started to trim the Celtics’ 22-point lead down in the fourth quarter and got it down to 12 with a 3-pointer by C.J. McCollum with 4:27 remaining, which felt like the opening riff to a familiar song. Instead of falling apart, however, the Celtics started running their offense through Derrick White and Porzingis. 

The resulting offense was enough to lift the Celtics the rest of the way and stymy the comeback attempt. White works well as a primary initiator late since making the right play seems hard-wired into his basketball DNA when he doesn’t need one more assist for a triple-double. Meanwhile, Porzingis — who missed most of his 3-pointers but was good at pretty much everything else — picked up the slack for the Celtics when their 3-pointers weren’t falling and helped smooth the rough edges of the offense in the fourth quarter even when he wasn’t scoring. 

3. Jaylen Brown was excellent on the defensive end, holding Zion Williamson in check, especially in the second half when the Pelicans star shot 3-for-9 from the field. Brown bothered Williamson’s dribble and tripped up his drives, and he was able to match most (if not all) of Williamson’s physicality. 

Williamson was 9-for-17 from the floor overall, but he finished with four turnovers.

“I feel like that’s something my team relies on me to do now, so I take it with honor and responsibility,” Brown said. “That was my matchup, and I wanted to make sure we made it tough on him. And I think we did.”

4. Brown slipped and fell late in the first quarter and needed a second to get back up, which was quite literally the exact thing that the Celtics do not want to see in these games over the next few weeks. 

Afterward, Brown said he was fine after the fall, although he banged his knee on the ground. He did say his back has been bothering him, and he expects he will have his finger looked at after he was spotted holding his hand in discomfort. 

At this stage in the season, no one is healthy, but – again – the Celtics have given themselves a big cushion and have the runway to get themselves as healthy as possible. Brown didn’t make it sound like his issues are pressing, but having him as close to healthy as possible going into the postseason would be an incredible luxury in a league where everyone is banged up after 82 games. Don’t be surprised if he misses a few (or perhaps quite a few) precautionary games over the next few weeks. 

5. The Pelicans showed in stark relief one of the reasons the Celtics are considered such an impressive playoff team. New Orleans has several stars and a lot of players who are good in their roles, and they admittedly were without a star and a role player (Ingram and Jose Alvarado), but they also have the usual roster holes of a boilerplate playoff team. C.J. McCollum is a scorer who struggles to defend, especially when an opposing team forces the Pelicans to switch. Dyson Daniels (who averages over 20 minutes per game) was mostly unplayable because he wasn’t willing to shoot 3-pointers, which allowed Kristaps Porzingis to roam free defensively. 

The Celtics, meanwhile, feature White and Jrue Holiday in the backcourt, and they have switchable big men (Al Horford and Xavier Tillman) as well as Porzingis, who can protect the rim and/or play with both Horford and Tillman. The smallest player in the rotation, Payton Pritchard, consistently outplays his size as a defender and rebounder. The only player who presents as a defensive liability is Sam Hauser (Joe Mazzulla, by the way, would disagree heartily with that assessment), and Hauser can play or not play as many minutes as the Celtics need. However, he’s also second on the team in on/off numbers, so he has managed to keep himself more than playable despite any perceived liabilities. 

The Celtics aren’t perfect, and the fretting about their crunchtime offense will continue until they are either crowned or eliminated, but they are an impressively complete basketball team.

6. Given that the game was televised on NBA TV, a quick shout-out to the Pelicans’ broadcast crew of Joel Meyers and Antonio Daniels. Like any local broadcast, they cater to their fanbase a bit, but Meyers and Daniels balance it well with clear-eyed analysis, which makes for a pleasant game experience. 

7. And on that note, a quick shout-out to Holiday, who played seven seasons in New Orleans and drew profuse praise from Meyers and Daniels as a human being. Holiday seems to leave a great impression wherever he goes, which certainly lines up with early impressions of his time in Boston.

Holiday flirted with a triple-double, notching 13 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in 35 minutes.

8. The Celtics finished a difficult March with a record of 12-4. They will close out their six-game road trip Monday in Charlotte against the Hornets at 7 p.m.

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