Isaiah Thomas leads Celtics past Pelicans, 104-98
NEW ORLEANS (AP) Isaiah Thomas couldn't help himself.
The pull-up 3 felt right, even though the Celtics were on a fast break in the fourth quarter, and there were higher-percentage plays to be made.
''It was heat check,'' Thomas said about the shot, which went down, confirming his shooting hand was indeed hot. ''I knew I made two in a row before that.''
Thomas scored 14 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, when Boston pulled away for its fifth victory in seven games, 104-98 over the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night.
''I like fourth quarters, I guess. I get a little more aggressive in the fourth. I'm comfortable in the fourth quarter,'' said Thomas, who has six 20-point games since being acquired from Phoenix at the NBA trade deadline last month. ''It's not for everybody. ... I like close games. I like being the guy.''
Louisiana native and former LSU star Brandon Bass added 17 points and Evan Turner had 14 for Boston. The Celtics hit 10 3-pointers on 23 attempts; Thomas hit four.
Anthony Davis had 29 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks for New Orleans, which lost for just the second time in eight games and missed an opportunity to pull even with Oklahoma City for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.
''We didn't have that fight tonight to get us through a tough time,'' Pelicans coach Monty Williams said.
Eric Gordon added 20 points and Tyreke Evans had 11 for the Pelicans. They shot a bit better than Boston, but committed 18 turnovers - leading to 20 Celtics points.
''We didn't play our basketball,'' said Evans, who lost the ball seven times. ''Part of it was me turning the ball over and not making good decisions. This was a game we needed to win.''
Jae Crowder, who started for the injured Avery Bradley (left elbow), had 11 points, nine rebounds and four steals.
The victory left the Celtics 1 1/2 games out of the last playoff spot in the East.
Boston locked down on Davis in the third quarter with physical play, holding him to one field goal and two foul shots. Bass, meanwhile, had nine of his points in the period, and Boston took a 71-68 lead into the fourth after Thomas lofted a driving layup over Davis' outstretched arms as he was fouled by Norris Cole.
Those were the first points of the second half for Thomas, but far from his last.
His three 3s to open the fourth gave Boston an 82-71 lead. The Celtics led by as many as 15 when Turner's driving layup made it 93-78 with 6:01 to go, and New Orleans couldn't get within single digits until the final minute.
''Isaiah got hot and pushed the game out of reach,'' Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.
''We just fed off him when he was in the game,'' Crowder said about Thomas. ''He knows how to take over like he did tonight.''
Davis started strong with 10 points in the first quarter, highlighted by his two-handed dunk of an alley-oop lob that Quincy Pondexter launched from about 30 feet out. But the Pelicans started slowly overall.
Thomas had 10 first-half points on an array of drives and jumpers, and the Celtics led by as many as 11 when Kelly Olynyk's free throws made it 40-29.
New Orleans chipped away, closing to 43-39 on the first of two alley-oop dunks Davis threw down in the second quarter.
Davis reached 16 first-half points with a jumper that briefly put New Orleans up a point before Thomas' free throw tied it at 47 heading into halftime.
Celtics: Boston swept the two-game season series. ... The Celtics improved to 10-19 on the road.
Pelicans: Alexis Ajinca scored four points in about 10 minutes, marking the first time in seven games that he has scored less than double figures. ... New Orleans fell to 21-11 at home.
OFF THE BENCH
Stevens said starting Crowder over the 5-foot-9 Thomas made for a better size matchup with the Pelicans' Evans, who like Crowder is 6-6. Crowder and Thomas each played more than 28 minutes.
''I would love to start but whatever's best for the team, I want to do,'' Thomas said. ''I'm just trying to fit in and be me, like the guys are letting me be, and try to win as many games as possible and get to the playoffs.''
Celtics: Visit Orlando on Sunday night.
Pelicans: Host Memphis on Saturday night.