After getting to the Eastern Conference finals in three of four campaigns, however, the Celtics suffered a first round exit last season, falling rather easily to the Brooklyn Nets in five games.
This result didn’t surprise many people considering that Boston group posted a 36-36 regular season record. Fast forward to today, the Celtics are right at .500 again (22-22).
In other words, they’re beatable.
Jayson Tatum (25.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists) and Jaylen Brown (24.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists) are obviously fantastic talents. They serve as a great 1-2 punch, though it must be noted their shooting efficiencies are not quite to the standard witnessed the last few years.
No, the bigger problem for the Celtics has been the offensive depth behind that duo. It’s normally suspect at best.
While Robert Williams is fantastic in his role and Josh Richardson has been playing better basketball off the bench, Marcus Smart is making less than 40% of his field goal attempts, Al Horford’s 3-point shot has vanished (28.1 3PT%) and Dennis Schroder has had some serious bouts with consistency.
The Pelicans will not see Smart, however, as he’s out due to health and safety protocols.
Now, for what has seemingly been described as a toss-up matchup thus far in this preview, realize two things:
- New Orleans has been absolutely putrid against Eastern Conference foes — especially on the road (1-7).
- Boston has been playing better of late, winning four of their last five matchups. That includes a win over the Chicago Bulls a few nights ago.
One has to believe that Herb Jones and Josh Hart will draw the assignments on Tatum and Brown, so the biggest intrigue remaining: what will Boston do to slow down Brandon Ingram?
B.I. averaged 29.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 4.0 threes against the Celtics last season. However, he had Zion Williamson next to him in both contests. Will Ime Udoka be content with having Brown chase Ingram around, and have Timelord help if necessary inside the paint, or will more eyes be trained on B.I.?
Following their lackluster start against the Nets, it’ll also be interesting to watch for how the Pelicans begin today’s game. They’ve been one of the worst teams out of the gates (-1.8 +/- in first quarters) and have found themselves trailing at halftime nearly 2/3rds of the time.
When New Orleans has held the lead at intermission, they’re 11-4 on the season.
The Pelicans swept the series last season and are on a 3-game winning streak against the Celtics. Sure would be fun to see them stretch it to four games later today.
When: January 17, 2022, 11:30 a.m.
Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, NBA League Pass
Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM
Betting Odds: DraftKings