The Boston Celtics are playing better after putting a season-worst stretch behind them.
On Sunday they visit the New Orleans Pelicans, who seem unable to solve their ongoing defensive problems.
The Celtics beat the visiting Atlanta Hawks 121-109 on Friday to win for the second time in three games after experiencing a season-worst stretch of seven losses in 10 contests.
“It was a great win for us,” said Kemba Walker, who led Boston with a season-high 28 points. “I thought we played well. We moved the basketball. Defensively, we were in the right spots. Hopefully, we can really just build off this.”
Walker returned after sitting out a loss to the Hawks on Wednesday for load management. In his last four games, he is averaging 22.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists while shooting 17 of 31 on 3-pointers. The Celtics won three of those games.
“Kemba’s been really good,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “You can tell he’s really coming, and that’s a real positive for our team.
“We’ve struggled through this stretch and there’s been a lot of angst and a lot of talk. But in three of the four games he’s played in we’ve won. And in all of them he’s played well.”
Boston, which committed 18 turnovers, saw a 27-point, third-quarter lead shrink to nine points before Daniel Theis, returning from a two-game absence due to a finger injury, scored 10 points in the final four-plus minutes.
The Celtics, who are beginning a three-game road trip in New Orleans, tied a season-best by making 55.6 percent (50 of 90) of field goals on Friday.
They could be in for more offensive success against the Pelicans, who had an 11-point lead against visiting Phoenix after three quarters Friday but got outscored 41-12 in the fourth quarter of a 132-114 loss. It was the largest one-quarter scoring deficit in franchise history.
“We had a disastrous quarter,” New Orleans coach Stan Van Gundy said.
Jae Crowder made three 3-pointers as the Suns turned the game around by starting the fourth quarter with a 17-2 run that grew to 27-5.
“They were hitting us with haymakers,” Van Gundy said. “Then it just snowballed. They were scoring. We were facing set defense. We were stagnant.”
The Pelicans have struggled with their defense consistently, but especially as they have lost five of their last six and allowed an average of 127.7 points.
Phoenix made 58 percent of its shots, including hitting 22 of 39 on 3-pointers.
“It’s every night,” Van Gundy said. “I can’t just leave it to they had a good night. It has to be about your defense to a large degree.”
The fourth quarter wound up being historically bad because it wasn’t just the defense that failed. The Pelicans’ 12 points in the period were a season-low for any quarter and they had seven turnovers that led to 14 Suns points.
“I think us not getting stops kind of demoralized us on the offensive end,” said Lonzo Ball said, who had 21 points and 12 assists. “We see them hitting threes back-to-back-to-back and we weren’t really getting any real ball movement or any good shots or generating any type of pretty good offense.”
–Field Level Media