In a season that could cause whiplash due to the game-to-game momentum swings, the Celtics may have hit a new low on Sunday afternoon. Despite leading by as many as 24 points in the second half, the C’s fell to the New Orleans Pelicans 120-115 in their first overtime game and loss of the year.
The game marked the biggest blown lead for the Celtics since February 2019, and the biggest comeback in Pelicans franchise history. In total, the game featured eight lead changes and eight ties.
With the loss, Boston drops back to .500, at 15-15 on the season. They’re now 7-10 on the road.
The Celtics dropped into a hole early. With New Orleans hitting five of their first six shots, Brad Stevens was forced to take a quick timeout with his team down 11-2 just three minutes into the game.
Following the time out, the Celtics put together a 7-0 run, and tied the game up at 19-19 with five minutes to play in the first. A Robert Williams alley-oop highlighted a 21-12 Celtics run and the early comeback. Boston led 30-28 after one quarter.
That momentum continued to start the second quarter, which began with a 16-6 run by the C’s. Jayson Tatum seemed to really find his rhythm, scoring 15 of the Celtics’ total 33 second quarter points.
As impressive as their offense was in the second quarter, the Celtics’ defense may have been even better. They allowed just 19 points in the frame, and held Zion Williamson to four points on 1-of-5 shooting. At halftime, the Celtics led 63-47.
Boston continued to expand the lead for most of the third quarter. That included Williams once again lowering the boom on the Pelicans on an alley-oop.
However, the Pelicans put together an 11-3 run to close the quarter, finishing with Williamson going coast-to-coast for a buzzer-beating layup. Despite New Orleans momentum, the C’s held a comfortable 87-74 lead going into the fourth.
New Orleans quickly closed the gap to single digits, less than three minutes into the fourth quarter. That 11-3 run became a 21-9 run, getting the Pelicans within five points. The Celtics were able to hold them at bay between three and five points for a few minutes, but Brandon Ingram finally broke through and tied the game with a three pointer with four minutes to play.
Dueling threes from Tatum and Nicolo Melli tied the game once again at 101 with three minutes left in regulation. Entering the final minute, the team were knotted again at 104.
After Kemba Walker missed a three, Lonzo Ball got a fast break chance, but was fouled as he went in for the layup. He ended up hitting just one of his two free throws.
Jaylen Brown missed a layup on the other end, but the Celtics were gifted a second chance when replay review showed the ensuing rebound went out off the Pelicans. That set Tatum up for a turnaround jumper from the free throw line, which put the C’s up 106-105 with 10 seconds left.
Back at the other end, the Pelicans got the ball to Williamson, who bullied his way into the post against Tristan Thompson. He hit the layup through contact, and completed the and-one to make it 108-106 Pels with 6.9 seconds left.
On the Celtics’ next inbound, Jayson Tatum was forced to catch the ball back at the midcourt stripe. He was able to drive all the way to the basket, and hit a contact floater to send the game to overtime tied at 108. In the fourth quarter alone, the Celtics were outscored 34-21.
JAYSON TATUM AGAIN!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/YIMqv2XSem— Dan Greenberg (@StoolGreenie) February 21, 2021
Both teams scored a combined seven points over the first four minutes of OT. Another monster block from Wiliams set up Brown for a fast break layup, putting the C’s up 112-111 with a minute to go.
Brandon Ingram got to the line on the ensuing possession, and hit his first free throw to tie the game. A double lane violation was called on his second shot which resulted in a jump ball. The Pelicans won possession back, and Ingram finished the job, hitting a three pointer to put New Orleans up 115-112.
Walker missed a three pointer on the other end, forcing the Celtics to foul. Josh Hart hit both free throws to put the Celtics down five. Going back the other way, Jaylen Brown was fouled taking a three, and hit all three shots making it a two point game with 16 seconds remaining.
Once again, Hart ended up at the free throw line. He made just one of two, keeping the door open for the Celtics, who were down three with 8.3 seconds left. The Pelicans elected to foul, sending Jayson Tatum to the line.
He missed his first shot, then purposely tried to miss his second and recoup the two points. Because he failed to hit the rim, the Pelicans were given the ball, finally sealing the game.
Tatum led the Celtics in scoring with 32 points, making 10 of his game-high 24 shots. Brown followed him with 25 points, but the duo didn’t get much help on the offensive end, with no other Celtic scoring more than 14.
Defensively, Williams did his best to keep the Celtics in the game. He grabbed 13 rebounds, and blocked a season-high four shots.
Ingram led all scorers with 33 points, coming on strong down the stretch and in overtime. Williamson also was big for the Pelicans late in the game – he recovered from a rough first half to finish with 28 points and 10 rebounds.
The Celtics head to Texas on Tuesday for their next game, a meeting with Luka Doncic and the Mavericks. That game tips off at 7:30 p.m., with pregame coverage beginning at 7:00 on 98.5 The Sports Hub.
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Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com.