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After playing seven of their first 10 games of the second half on the road, the Celtics finally returned home Monday night to kick off a seven-game homestand. That return coincided with the team welcoming fans into TD Garden for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Those fans were nearly treated to an incredible comeback, but the Celtics were unable to capitalize on a late run, and fell to the New Orleans Pelicans 115-109. The loss drops the Celtics back under .500, to 23-24

Perhaps spurred by the presence of the fans, the Celtics jumped ahead early. Jayson Tatum, who tweeted about how excited he was to play in front of fans before the game, hit six of the C’s first nine field goals on his way to a 16-point quarter. However, the Pelicans closed the quarter on a 14-6 run, giving them a 32-27 lead after one. 

The Celtics opened strong in the second quarter, eventually getting to within two points of the Pelicans. Once again though, New Orleans put together a strong final few minutes, and took a 64-55 lead into the half. 

On the back of a 10-2 run, the Celtics grabbed the lead early in the third quarter. New Orleans came screaming back with 8-0 and 15-6 runs of their own, and regained control of the game. Heading into the fourth, the Pelicans led 88-81. 

That third quarter also contained one of the most bizarre moments of the Celtics’ season. With four and a half minutes to go, Payton Pritchard tied up Brandon Ingram and forced a jump ball. With just .3 left on the shot clock, Ingram didn’t attempt to win the jump ball, which would have resulted in a 24-second violation. Marcus Smart seemed to lose track of the possessions, so when Pritchard won the tip back to him, he one-handed the ball 46 feet for a miss.

New Orleans capitalized on the moment, rolling off an ensuing 27-7 run. Just when it looked like all the momentum had left the building though, the Celtics ripped off a 15-0 run, with 11 of those points coming from Tatum and Kemba Walker. 

A Tatum stepback three with 50 seconds to go got the Celtics within three points at 110-107. However, a Brandon Ingram fadeaway on the other end, plus technical free throws following Smart being ejected, sealed the game.

Tatum finished with a game-high 34 points on 12-25 shooting, and came up a rebound shy of a double-double. Walker added 23 points and Smart 15. Robert Williams, making his third start off the year, totaled seven points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three blocks.

Off the bench, Payton Pritchard contributed 11 points, and Luke Kornet 10. Evan Fournier, making his Celtics debut, went scoreless as he shot 0-of-10 from the floor.

For the Pelicans, it was a two-man show most of the night. Zion Williamson led NOLA with 28 points, and chipped in four steals on the defensive end. Brandon Ingram scored 25, and dished out nine assists. 

Boston’s homestand continues on Wednesday, when the Celtics host the Mavericks at TD Garden. Pregame coverage begins at 7:00 on 98.5 The Sports Hub.

Click here for 98.5 The Sports Hub’s complete coverage of the Celtics.

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 abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.