Celtics’ bad habits resurface: 4 things we learned from Boston’s loss to the Pelicans

The Celtics dropped below the .500 mark on Monday night with a 115-109 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans to kick off a seven-game homestand. The return of fans to TD Garden was a welcome addition to the atmosphere for the hosts but that added enthusiasm didn’t do much to contain a hot-shooting Pelicans team that knocked down over 50 percent of their 3-point attempts in the victory.

“We weren’t able to match them in the first half,” Brad Stevens said. “I thought they made shots, they made it really difficult on us. I thought we were flying around, super engaged. Second half, obviously it turned in the third quarter. They kept that up. We just didn’t respond as a group as well as we can.”

What went wrong after intermission? A closer look at the good, bad and ugly in four things we learned from the defeat.

The Celtics offensive woes were their biggest problem in this game: Jayson Tatum lived up to his All-Star self in Monday’s matchup with a game-high 34 points but around him, was a lot of lackluster offense. Boston mustered just 39 points in the first 20 minutes of the second half despite facing off with one of the worst defenses in the league. There were some bad shooting nights (hello, Evan Fournier) that contributed but the flow of the offense fell apart as well midway through the third quarter, leading to the Pelicans building a lead that a late Celtics rally couldn’t overcome midway through the fourth quarter.

“I thought we got stagnant. I thought we took some really, really hard shots in the second half,” Brad Stevens said. “So this was one of those nights where we’re gonna have to score the ball, ‘cause the other team is really shooting it. So again, I think sometimes you make it more difficult than it is. They played great tonight and we didn’t quite match it. That was, to me, the story of the game.”

The offense has been far better in the past week and missing an All-Star in Jaylen Brown absolutely hurt in this one but the same troubling consistency issues appeared once again. Boston’s defense is not good enough this year to slow down elite offenses so this team can’t afford to revert to bad offensive habits that helped dig this team closer to the .500 mark in the first place.

Luke Kornet remains a surprise plus off the bench: Who had Luke Kornet as making the biggest impact of Boston’s trade additions in the first week after the trade deadline? The 7-foot-2 center was a bright spot off the bench yet again in the first half, piling up 10 points in 13 minutes of action, including knocking down a pair of 3s. Kornet has now scored 18 points in 26 minutes in two games as a Celtic despite being a throw-in from a salary matching perspective from Boston’s trade with the Bulls last week.

While Kornet’s production is a good sign, the fact that the Celtics have to rely on him as a spark off the bench already isn’t the greatest sign for where the team is at right now. Boston is missing a glut of rotation players but the ones leftover are failing to provide consistent contributions in recent days. With Tristan Thompson approaching a return from NBA health and safety protocols, Kornet’s meaningful minutes may be numbered but his stretch shooting ability should keep him in Brad Stevens’ mind as a change of pace for the foreseeable future

Marcus Smart’s mental miscues loomed large: The Celtics looked like a hungry team at the start of the second half, piling up 21 points in seven minutes at the start of the third quarter to erase a nine-point halftime deficit. However, some of that momentum came to a crashing halt once Smart made arguably the most boneheaded play we could see from a Celtic all year. Payton Pritchard forced a jumpball with 0.3 seconds left on the shot clock, forcing a jump ball at midcourt that was essentially a turnover for Boston since New Orleans had no chance to get a shot up to beat the clock.

However, after Pritchard tapped an uncontested tip to Smart, the veteran guard chucked up a full court shot, thinking either the Celtics only had 0.3 seconds on their shot clock or that the Pelicans would have a shot clock violation regardless. However, a chance of possession gave Boston a fresh shot clock so Smart essentially tossed away a possession back to New Orleans in a four-point game by needlessly throwing it out of bounds. The Pelicans responded to the extra chance with two straight baskets (including a backdoor cut on Smart) and the All-Defensive guard tried to make up his miscue on the possession in-between by hoisting up an ill-advised 3 (he was 0-of-6 on night from 3).

The sequence ultimately began a 30-18 run for the visitors that put away the game out of Boston’s reach. With little margin of error as a shorthanded group, this type of miscue from Smart seemed to leave the Celtics flat for much of the second half before their late rally that fell short.

Kemba Walker remains confident in Evan Fournier: The new addition had one of the worst shooting debuts in NBA history on his new team. However, a steady diet of good looks that the Celtics were able to get Fournier throughout the game makes Walker optimistic that this will just be a blip on the radar.

“I mean, It’s difficult, coming to a new team and just trying to play well, try to remember all of the plays and new system,” Walker explained. “It’s not easy. At the end of the day, come on now, we all know how good Evan is.

“He’s gonna be great for us. I thought he had great looks, shots that we all know that he can make. He’s just getting adapted. He’s just adjusting. He’s definitely going to knock those shots down. Just give him some encouragement, just try to let him know not to think too much, just play the game. We believe in him. He’s going to be great for us.”

With Brown set to return to the lineup later this week, Fournier will likely be the beneficiary of even more opportunity in the coming days as defenses have to pick their poison against Boston’s scorers.