Jayson Tatum scored a career-high 41 points in just 30 minutes as the Celtics snapped their three-game losing streak and surged to a 140-105 win over the undermanned New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night.
The Celtics shot 55 percent overall, and 48.3 percent from the 3-point line. Other observations from the game:
■ At the start of the third quarter, Tatum made it clear that his highlight reel would not be limited to the first half, in which he had a game-high 22 points. He quickly drilled a 3, then came up with a steal and a layup, igniting his 19-point quarter. As the points rolled in, there was buzz in the crowd whenever Tatum touched the ball. His layup with 1:05 left gave him his 41, and the only thing that kept him from a potentially historic night was Boston’s 32-point lead at the start of the fourth. He sat for the rest of the game.
■ Celtics coach Brad Stevens often talks about the confidence a player gets from seeing an easy shot go through the hoop early in the game. He was probably pleased when Tatum, who has scuffled through much of this season as a shooter, got a simple 3-point play on a fast-break layup on Boston’s first possession of the game. Tatum then went to work for the rest of the half, mixing powerful drives with crushing step-back jumpers, as he hit 8 of his first 9 shots. The Celtics were surely pleased to see that kind of aggression out of him.
■ Jaylen Brown was similarly aggressive, but in the first half, his offensive rut continued. While Tatum did well to create good opportunities, Brown seemed to be forcing his a bit. He posted up Lonzo Ball on two early possessions — a good approach — but couldn’t convert. Then he failed to convert a tough alley-oop that he probably should have come down with. He was just 3 for 11 in the first half, and finished 4 for 15.
■ For a moment, it looked like the Celtics’ offensive slog might continue against another undermanned team. After Tatum’s game-opening layup, Boston missed 8 shots in a row. But it closed the quarter by converting 15 of 19, and offense was not an issue. The Celtics hit the 101-point mark with 4:09 left in the third quarter, and ended up matching their season high.
■ The Celtics have dealt with plenty of injuries and absences this year, but even they have never lacked as much manpower as New Orleans did on Saturday. The Pelicans were without regular starters Jrue Holiday, Derrick Favors and JJ Redick, key reserve Kenrich Williams and, of course, No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson. And they played a road game on Friday in New York while the Celtics rested. So, basically, the Celtics did what they were supposed to do. But after a few uninspiring performances the past week, they were happy to get the reset.
■ Brad Wanamaker did not play against Philadelphia, his first DNP of the season. He had a sparkling start to this year, but struggled recently, though Stevens insisted this case was more about matchups and Marcus Smart’s strong play. Wanamaker was one of the first subs on Saturday, entering with 4:21 left in the first quarter.
■ The undermanned Pelicans used a zone defense somewhat consistently in the first half, and the Celtics attacked it well with very good ball movement. On one play with just under two minutes left, the ball was quickly whipped around to all five players before Enes Kanter put in an easy dunk.
■ Pelicans rookie Jaxson Hayes has great promise and athleticism as a shot-blocker, but he does not have the heft to match up with Kanter right now. The Celtics big man made that very clear as he registered 14 points and 10 rebounds in the first half. Kanter finished with 22 and 19, both season highs.
■ Grant Williams entered the game averaging 5.2 fouls per 36 minutes, and that extremely high number is going to go up after he fouled out in 13 minutes on Saturday.
■ It’s always fascinating to watch the 5-foot-11 Kemba Walker navigate his way around, through, and past opposing big men near the rim. He’s not tall, or a leaper, or unusually strong. But he is excellent at knowing the right way to attack. One example came late in the second quarter, when he froze Pelicans big man Jahlil Okafor with a hesitation dribble before converting an easy layup.