Entering the gauntlet of this NBA season, the New Orleans Pelicans salvaged a 1-1 record from weekend play after a dominant 108-89 victory over the Boston Celtics at the Smoothie King Center on Sunday.
Prior to tip-off, point guard Kyrie Irving was ruled out by the Boston Celtics due to left knee soreness, joining Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown on their sidelines. Even so, the Celtics opened the game with a 10-4 start and summoned the presence of poise within New Orleans. In particular, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Morris got off to fast starts, propelling the Celtics to a 28-20 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Although the Pelicans were unable to get anything going, Solomon Hill made his season debut at the 4:55 mark of the first and finished with eight minutes played. There was little indication of how healthy he truly is as Hill was not asked of much on offense and was never truly challenged as an on-ball defender. However, in postgame media, Hill admitted he was pleasantly surprised and felt he could have played a greater amount of minutes.
“I feel way better than I thought I would,” said Hill. “Credits to the staff and Mike G (Sports Performance Consultant Mike Guevara) for really being cautious, and I’d rather be over prepared for my first day, and I felt great. I look forward to the next time out there. It was just a great feeling knowing that I felt better than I thought I would, so we’ll see how tomorrow goes.”
Anthony Davis was the mainstay of offense in the first frame, quickly notching 10 points. Despite this effort, Holiday’s overlay of fatigue was illuminated as the guard took just one shot in the first half. Nevertheless, behind the consistent production of Davis and welcome production from the bench — 22 points from reserves, brought the deficit within two prior to the halftime break.
Poor third quarters continuing was no option for the Pelicans. In the opening minutes of the second half, New Orleans found itself on a 9-0 run and showed early stages of separation. Most notable was the energy created by backup center Cheick Diallo. His high-energy plays and Wakanda Forever tributes created a playoff-like atmosphere in the Smoothie King Center. Not to mention Diallo’s season-high scoring performance, finishing with 17 points along with six rebounds, which elicted plenty of praise from Head Coach Alvin Gentry after the game.
“Yeah he did a great job,” said Gentry. “And I think for him, when we were struggling a little bit, he gave us a big boost energy-wise. I thought he did a great job guarding (Greg) Monroe. It’s a big size difference there, but I thought he did a really good job guarding Monroe, and then I thought he did a good job getting back on the boards. But just his running in our offense opened up everything. He did a great job of rim-running, which in turn I thought opened up the game.”
New Orleans gave the Celtics another run in the beginning stages of the fourth quarter — this time an 8-0 spurt. Davis led the Pelicans to as high as a 20-point lead, late in the fourth quarter with an and-one that all but iced the game. Davis finished with 34 points and 11 rebounds and was joined in the double-double department by Nikola Mirotic, who notched 16 points and 10 rebounds himself.
New Orleans, now with a 40-30 record overall, will return to action on Tuesday at home when they welcome the Dallas Mavericks, starting a run of three games in three nights for the Pelicans. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. CT.