NEW ORLEANS — No one was howling or celebrating in the Celtics’ locker room. There was no music playing. There weren’t even many smiles.
It was not really the reaction that one might expect from a team that had just won its ninth game in a row, a team that owns the best record in the NBA, a team that had just put on another long-distance shooting display that made an opposing crowd gasp.
But these Celtics are not here for November wins that will not really mean anything in June. And they also know that despite the poise they showed in a 117-109 win against the Pelicans on Friday night, there were imperfections.
Fourteen second-half turnovers. Uneasiness on offense which bled into shaky defense. Jayson Tatum’s minor shooting slump lasting another night.
So they took some lessons, and in the process continued to distance themselves from the rest of the Eastern Conference.
“I guess the mentality is one day at a time,” Jaylen Brown said. “We can’t try to look too far ahead and forget about all the details that need to be taken care of that’s right in front of us. Sometimes, we get a lead and we let the game get away from us, and that’s the challenge, to be mature, to be locked in, and be focused.”
The start was certainly familiar to the Celtics. They pummeled another opponent with another barrage of 3-pointers. They were relentless, going 10 for 16 in the first quarter.
This onslaught left some room for error, but there were later times when it appeared that they would use all of it, and then some. There were times when it felt similar to their only regulation loss this season, an Oct. 24 setback against the Bulls in which they surged to an early advantage before crumbling.
In the end, though, they never crumbled. The Pelicans went on runs — 10-0, 15-2, 7-0 — and the fans started roaring. But each time, the Celtics settled down, settled in and pushed back before it was too late.
“Our guys, you know, credit to them,” coach Joe Mazzulla said. “They’re great at keeping their poise. I thought that was the lesson of the game today, was our guys kept their poise and made the right play and got the stop when they needed to, and we executed when we needed to.”
Brown had 27 points and Derrick White added 26 —three shy of his career high — to lead the Celtics. Tatum made just 6 of 18 shots and 2 of 10 3-pointers, but finished with 19 points and 10 assists, in large part because his teammates were spraying the ball from beyond the arc. Boston drilled 20 of 46 3-pointers (43.5 percent), with Al Horford and White combining to hit 10 of 13.
Brandon Ingram led the Pelicans with 25 points. New Orleans star Zion Williamson sat out because of a foot contusion, and Celtics guard Marcus Smart remained sidelined due to swelling in his right ankle.
The Celtics pushed ahead, 40-25, in their hot-shooting first quarter, with Horford leading the way by hitting all four of his 3-point attempts. The rest of the night had its flaws.
Mazzulla said that in the second half, the Celtics continued to get most of the open looks that were there in the first. But they started missing, which is going to happen sometimes. The larger issue was that those misses — the right misses — seemed to dent their confidence.
They started passing up open 3-pointers in order to try something else.
“And that’s when we turn the ball over,” Mazzulla said. “The best advantage is a wide-open shot, and when you don’t take it, it gets harder and harder to generate a good shot.”
The Pelicans produced dangerous bursts during the Celtics’ lulls. None proved crushing, however.
“I think we did a good job of answering their runs,” White said, “and staying poised and making a run back at them.”
With Boston leading, 98-85, New Orleans went on a 7-0 run in less than a minute. But rather than call a timeout, Boston answered with a Grant Williams 3-pointer and a running dunk by Horford.
The Celtics led by eight when Brown missed inside, but he battled a pair of defenders for the ball, came up with the rebound and scored, stretching the advantage back to 107-97.
“I think we’ve definitely shown growth throughout the season,” Brown said. “I think we’ve continued to get better. But I think we still have a lot of work to do. I think we still know everybody holds us to a high standard, but I’m sure fans watching the game can see areas where we can get better and we see them too.”