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Pelicans’ temporary Big 3 faces stiff challenge against Celtics

CJ McCollum, Naji Marshall and Jonas Valanciunas have been lights out over the last four games

New Orleans Pelicans v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The last time the New Orleans Pelicans stepped onto the court with the Boston Celtics, they suffered one of their worst first quarters of the season It’s reminiscent of how the Dallas Mavericks smashed them just days ago, and the Memphis Grizzlies in late November, in the first frame too.

The Pelicans have been outscored by double digits only three times in the opening 12 minutes and the recipe has been the same. The Mavericks knocked down five 3-pointers, the Grizzlies, eight and the Celtics, 10.

Not surprisingly, two of these three opponents shoot 3s at prolific rates. The Celtics are second in the league with 41.7 long-ball attempts per game. They’re also one of the better teams at converting those looks, entering tonight with a 37.1 3PT% which ranks eighth.

Containing the Celtics on the perimeter is going to be crucial. Although Zion Williamson sat out the Nov. 18 matchup, Brandon Ingram scored 25 points. Both New Orleans stars are out for this one, and the Pelicans could see Robert Williams for a first time this season. (He is listed as questionable along with Marcus Smart.)

In other words, the margin for victory is in all likelihood going to be quite small.

The Pelicans will have to come close to repeating their winning formula in Washington. They committed only 10 turnovers, tallied 27 fast break points and held the Wizards to seven offensive rebounds. Limiting the Celtics to one shot per possession and not giving them easy scoring opportunities are musts. So too is getting out in transition. The Celtics are 10-7 when their opponents have scored 14 fast break points or more.

Getting certain individual contributions will also help the cause. Since Zion Williamson suffered his hamstring injury in Philadelphia, CJ McCollum, Naji Marshall and Jonas Valanciunas have put up some serious numbers, with Jose Alvarado chipping in nicely as well.

Points Rebounds Assists FGA (FG%) 3PA (3PT%) FTA (FT%)
CJ McCollum 30.0 4.0 4.3 22.0 (48.5%) 9.0 (48.1% 5.7 (76.5%)
Naji Marshall 20.3 5.3 3.3 14.8 (45.8%) 4.8 (36.8) 7.3 (69.0%)
Jonas Valanciunas 20.0 12.3 1.5 13.5 (57.5%) 1.0 (0%) 5.3 (85.7%)
Jose Alvarado 13.5 4.0 4.8 10.5 (45.2%) 5.5 (40.9%) 1.8 (100%)

The Pelicans have proven capable without Williamson and Ingram, going 2-2 in their last four games. They’ll also likely be without Herb Jones, who is listed as doubtful with a right low back contusion on the latest injury report.

However, as viewers witnessed last night in the Suns’ 125-113 victory over the Warriors in San Francisco, tough matchups on the road without a team’s biggest contributors can still result in W’s.

Let’s Geaux!

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (25-16) at Boston Celtics (29-12)

When: January 11, 2023, 6:30 p.m. CT

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, League Pass

Where to listen: WRNO 99.5

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.