Evan Fournier has his worst game of the season in Celtics debut originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Boston Celtics were on a two-game winning streak heading into Monday night's game against the New Orleans Pelicans. They were kickstarting at seven-game homestand and playing in front of fans at the TD Garden for the first time in 386 days.
Everything seemed ready to break in the Celtics' favor, but against the Pelicans, they came up short.
The C's lost by a final score of 115-109. They trailed for most of the game against the Pelicans and just couldn't quite get over the hump in the end.
It certainly was a disappointing loss for the Celtics, and they once again find themselves below .500 on the season at a mark of 23-24. And one of the reasons they found themselves in the loss column on Monday were the struggles of their newest player.
Here are three observations from Boston's defeat at the hands of New Orleans.
1. Evan Fournier had his worst game in Celtics debut
After sitting out the first two Celtics games after the 2021 NBA trade deadline, Evan Fournier made his team debut against the Pelicans. With Jaylen Brown (hip) out, there was an opportunity for Fournier to get some extra work off the bench and his scoring would be needed to help balance out Brown's absence.
Alas, Fournier's didn't go well on offense. At all.
During the game, Fournier played 33 minutes. That was by far the most of any bench player and tied for third-most on the team with Kemba Walker.
In those 33 minutes, Fournier was unable to score. It wasn't for a lack of trying. He took 10 shots during the game; he just couldn't make any of them. That was a departure from his above-league-average shooting in 26 games played this season.
From the start, Fournier was slightly off. He back-rimmed most of his attempts during the game and couldn't get right. When he tried to take a little something off his shot to get a make, he launched an ugly air-ball on a corner 3-ball. From there, he went back to hitting everything off the back rim until he shot another awkward air-ball during the C's comeback bid.
Fournier's Celtics debut was his worst game of the season. There's no doubt about it. He had only failed to score in double figures three times on the season. And his only game with fewer than eight points came when he scored three against the Philadelphia 76ers in just seven minutes of action before leaving with an injury.
Aside from his shooting woes, Fournier wasn't too bad. He was particularly solid on defense, and logged two steals and a couple of blocks.
Still, C's fans won't be happy with Fournier's shooting in his debut, but they can take comfort in knowing that he almost certainly won't be this bad in another game this year. He should have a good chance to bounce back on Wednesday against the Dallas Mavericks.
2. Celtics lost their grip after Marcus Smart's big mistake
Smart had some good moments against the Pelicans, especially when he drove to the hoop and converted on layups. But he also had a play during the game that might have been the worst play of the NBA season.
After Payton Pritchard forced a jump ball with 0.3 seconds left on the shot clock for New Orleans, the C's were supposed to get the ball. Even if the Pelicans won the jump ball, they'd run out of time before they could get a shot off.
As such, Brandon Ingram decided to let Pritchard just win the jump ball. Pritchard tapped it back to Smart who then proceeded to wildly fling the ball all the way downcourt, as you can see via the Celtics on NBC Sports Boston's Twitter account.
Obviously, Smart thought the shot clock ran when the ball is touched off a jump ball, but it actually only runs once a team gains possession of it. So, his ridiculous-looking 46-foot halfcourt heave counted as a 3-point shot and the Pelicans got the ball as a result of the play.
At the time, Boston was trailing by four. After the play, they were all sorts of discombobulated and struggled to generate offense. The Pelicans went on a 20-8 run over the next 10 minutes of game action and extended their lead to as many as 16 during that span.
Smart certainly should've known better than to launch that halfcourt shot -- or to try to make up for it by taking a difficult 3-point shot on his next possession -- but the Celtics needed to show more poise and ability to bounce back after that mistake. They didn't, and that's a big part of why they lost the game.
3. Jayson Tatum honing his fourth quarter scoring skills
As disappointing as the Celtics' loss to the Pelicans was, there was a big positive at the end of it. They cut a 17-point lead to just three thanks to another fourth-quarter run that was largely keyed by Jayson Tatum.
After scoring 16 points in the first quarter, Tatum was largely quiet for the next two quarters. But in the fourth, he came alive again and was particularly strong during the final minutes of the game.
In about a three-minute span, the C's went on a 15-0 run. Tatum had seven of those points. That included an impressive shot that brought the C's within one possession of tying the game.
This effort from Tatum came after he had 13 fourth quarter points and helped orchestrate a 19-0 run against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday.
It's true that neither the Thunder nor the Pelicans are very good on defense, but it still speaks to the fact that the Celtics are improving their ability to play in late-game situations. The team once ranked dead-last in fourth quarter margin but have improved to 25th-ranked in recent weeks.
If Tatum can continue to score at will in key, late-game situations, that should bode well for the Celtics regardless of what they're able to do for the rest of this season.