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Celtics show ‘toughness’ in advance of meeting vs. Pelicans

Jan 9, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) reacts after making a dunk in the last seconds of play against the Chicago Bulls in the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans will look to end the Boston Celtics’ five-game home winning streak when the teams meet Wednesday night.

Despite shooting just 11 of 41 from behind the 3-point arc (26.8 percent), Boston picked up its fifth straight home win by beating the Chicago Bulls 107-99 Monday. The Celtics were without guard Marcus Smart (knee contusion), but Jayson Tatum had 32 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in the victory.

Tatum is averaging a team-high 30.8 points per game. No Celtics player has averaged 30.0 points per game in a season, with Larry Bird at 29.9 in 1987-88..

“Credit to our guys,” Boston coach Joe Mazzulla said. “I thought this was one of our better wins, one of our complete wins, because of our mindset and toughness. And so, regardless of the result on either end of the floor, we kept a certain body language and a certain focus about us … a togetherness, a commitment to the details, and it was really fun to watch the guys do that I think that’s what helped us win the game.”

With Smart not available, center Robert Williams got his first start of the season Monday. Since returning from a knee injury, Williams came off the bench in each of his nine previous appearances.

Although they played without leading scorer Zion Williamson (26.0 points per game) and Brandon Ingram (20.8), the Pelicans set a season high for points in Monday night’s 132-112 triumph over Washington. CJ McCollum scored a game-high 34 points and New Orleans also received 27 points and 12 rebounds from center Jonas Valanciunas.

It was McCollum’s fourth consecutive game with at least 25 points and the fifth straight double-double for Valanciunas.

“We just tried to establish his presence,” McCollum said about Valanciunas. “He’s efficient in the post. He gets us to the bonus faster. He gets us points at the free throw line even if it’s not a shot attempt. And that makes him screen better. That makes him defend better and do those things. Just got to be cognizant of that as the season progresses. Even when guys come back, we got to make sure he’s eating.”

Williamson missed his fourth straight game with a right hamstring strain and Ingram hasn’t played since Nov. 25 because of a toe contusion. New Orleans coach Willie Green said Ingram might begin practicing this week.

The Pelicans are 6-3 in games Williamson and Ingram have missed. Valanciunas is averaging 20.0 points and 12.3 rebounds in the four-game stretch in which Williamson hasn’t played.

“It’s always fun to play good and to play winning basketball,” Valanciunas said. “There’s no doubt about that. We’re missing our two main guys, so everybody’s got to step up and everybody’s got to do some extra stuff to be able to win the game.”

Wednesday’s matchup will be the second meeting between the Celtics and Pelicans this season. Jaylen Brown had 27 points and 10 rebounds to help Boston earn a 117-109 road victory on Nov. 18. Boston had 20 3-pointers in the win.

Ingram led New Orleans with 25 points (five 3-pointers). Williamson also missed that game with a bruised right foot.

The Celtics have a 16-5 home record, while the Pelicans are 8-11 on the road.

–Field Level Media

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