Brad Stevens had a feeling his team, coming off a five-game western trip and battling for playoff position, could be in for a rough time Wednesday night.
Yes, even against the decimated New Orleans Pelicans.
“I thought we looked a little road weary, but on those nights you have to find a way,” the Boston Celtics coach said after his club escaped with a 104-97 victory over the undermanned but pesky Pelicans. “I was actually pretty pleased because I knew it was going to be really hard, due to the circumstances of everything.”
The Celtics saw a 16-point, early-third quarter lead shrink to three, then grow back to 14 late in the quarter, but the Pelicans came back and had a chance to win.
New Orleans rallied despite being without injured players averaging a total of 100 points per game.
“They played really, really well and really hard,” Stevens said after Boston’s third consecutive win left the Celtics (46-32) in a virtual tie with the Atlanta Hawks for third place in the Eastern Conference. The Heat (45-32) are a half-game back in fifth, and the Charlotte Hornets (45-33) are a half-game behind Miami in sixth.
The Celtics play three of their last four games at home, the only road game against Atlanta on Saturday night.
Avery Bradley hit a jumper to snap a 93-93 tie, and Isaiah Thomas scored 32 points for the victory.
Bradley shook off a poor shooting night by nailing a late 3-pointer.
Jae Crowder followed a Marcus Smart missed 3-pointer – Boston’s 33rd trey attempt of the game – to make it 97-93. Two Thomas free throws extended the lead to six with 1:23 left. New Orleans scored and almost scored again, but Amir Johnson blocked a Luke Babbitt layup and Bradley then iced the game with his first successful trey in six tries.
“Whenever we are going through adversity, we should be able to overcome it,” said Bradley, who scored 13 points. “That’s what kind of team we should be moving forward.”
Thomas said of Bradley, “That’s what he does. He hits big shots.”
The Celtics finished 10-for-34 from 3-point range against a team that dressed the NBA-minimum eight players.
Thomas, extending his own club record by leading the team in scoring for the 17th straight game, continued his torrid second half of the season, adding eight assists and four rebounds. Crowder scored 14 points, and Smart had 11.
Toney Douglas led the Pelicans (29-49) with 19 points and added
seven rebounds and three assists. Babbitt had 16 points and eight boards, Jordan Hamilton 14 points and Alexis Ajinka 10 points and eight rebounds.
New Orleans was 9-for-24 from 3-point range and committed 23 turnovers. Boston gave the ball away just 10 times.
“I thought we did a good job,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “We played hard and we competed like crazy. We got down and kept plugging away at it. Once we were down like 16, 14 and got the game tied. We did it again.
“Just couldn’t seem to make a couple plays at the end that would get us over the hump.”
Because of their slew of injuries, the Pelicans didn’t start a player averaging more than 7.6 points per game. They were coming off a loss at lowly Philadelphia but had won two of their last three games – and played a disciplined style that wouldn’t let the Celtics get too far ahead in the first half.
However, the Celtics, who went just 4-for-17 from 3-point range in the first 24 minutes, finished the half with a 13-6 run and led by eight at the break. They then scored the first eight points of the second half, six of them on back-to-back 3-pointers by Crowder.