BOSTON — As a recent Celtics opponent can attest, all bets are off when it comes to April basketball in the NBA.
Five days removed from toppling the best team in the league, the Celtics found themselves in a dogfight with the New Orleans Pelicans, a team so decimated by injuries it dressed just nine players Wednesday night at TD Garden.
But for the third time in three games, Boston found a way to win, going on an 11-2 run late in the fourth quarter to earn a 104-97 victory.
Isaiah Thomas shouldered the load for a Celtics offense missing sixth man Evan Turner, scoring a game-high 32 points and adding eight assists. Jae Crowder tallied 14 points, while Avery Bradley chipped in 13.
The scrappy Pelicans put six players in double figures, with Toney Douglas and Tim Frazier leading the way with 19 and 18 points, respectively.
Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, Jared Sullinger
WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
The injury-riddled Pelicans started a group of virtual no-names, and they played like it right out of the gate.
New Orleans, whose “leading scorer” on the starting five entered Wednesday averaging 7.6 points per game, committed eight turnovers in the first 12 minutes and looked more or less hapless on offense.
The Celtics weren’t much better, though, shooting 36 percent from the floor in the first quarter and going 2 for 9 from 3-point range. But Thomas’ seven points in the frame helped Boston take a six-point lead into the second.
The Pelicans hung around in the second quarter thanks to the efforts of Frazier and some strong shooting from deep.
New Orleans hit three consecutive 3-pointers early in the quarter as part of a 10-2 run that gave the Pels a two-point lead. Frazier poured in 12 points in the frame while adding four assists.
Thomas and Marcus Smart pulled the Celtics’ weight in the second, scoring nine points each to combine for 18 of the team’s 30 points. Thomas helped lead a strong end to the half for Boston, sprinting in for a layup before the buzzer that gave the C’s an eight-point lead at the break.
The Celtics finally put the pesky Pelicans away in the third quarter. Or so they thought.
Crowder hit a pair of 3-pointers out of the second-half gate to help give Boston a double-digit lead. New Orleans fought back to cut that lead back down to three points, but Bradley stripped former teammate Kendrick Perkins and earned a three-point play on the other end during an 11-0 Celtics run that ballooned their lead to 14.
But the Pelicans came right back, ripping off an 11-0 run with the help of five made free throws to enter the fourth quarter trailing by only three points.
JUST IN TIME
The Pelicans refused to go away until the game’s final minutes, when a pair of key plays helped the Celtics escape with the win.
After New Orleans tied the score with under three minutes remaining, Boston got some breathing room with a 6-0 run. The Pelicans almost brought it back down to two, but an Amir Johnson block on Luke Babbitt followed a Bradley 3-pointer at the other end helped the C’s escape with the win.
This game would have been a whole lot uglier if it wasn’t for Thomas’ efforts.
The 5-foot-9 All-Star took matters into his own hands Wednesday, accounting for more than 30 percent of his team’s points. Thomas made a living at the free throw line, accounting for nine of his team’s 22 made free throws.
PLAY OF THE NIGHT
Thomas brought the circus to town in the second quarter by banking in this incredible runner over 7-foot Pelicans big man Omer Asik:
The Celtics welcome another sub-.500 team to TD Garden on Friday in the Milwaukee Bucks, who have lost seven of their last nine games. Then the C’s will hit the road Saturday for a crucial matchup against the Atlanta Hawks. Tip-off Friday is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images