Tatum scores 23 as Celtics rebound from back-to-back losses with 104-92 win over Pelicans

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Jayson Tatum scored 23 points and the Boston Celtics rebounded from back-to-back losses to Atlanta, pulling away in the third quarter for a 104-92 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday.

Kristaps Porzingis added 19 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots and Jaylen Brown scored 17 as the Celtics, who at 58-16 have the NBA’s best record, avoided what would have been their first three-game skid of the year.

Derrick White had 15 points and Jrue Holiday had 13 points, seven assists and eight rebounds.

Zion Williamson scored 25 for New Orleans and CJ McCollum added 24.

Porzingis said stopping the two-game skid — only the Celtics’ third losing streak of the season — was less important than simply playing well.

“Last year Denver lost four in a row at one point, and I think the team that won before that lost five in a row,” he said. “But winning is a nice habit for sure.”

Ahead 59-57 at halftime, Boston took control in the third quarter, limiting New Orleans to 11 points while Porzingis had two of his blocks. The Celtics went ahead 79-68 on Tatum’s 3-pointer with 4:12 left in the quarter and led by double digits the rest of the way, going up by 22 in the fourth quarter.

The Celtics took away open 3-point shots and funneled the Pelicans to the basket, where Porzingis was waiting.

“That has to be our identity defensively,” Porzingis said. “The guys (on the perimeter ) do everything up until that point, and when the opponent gets to the rim, they meet me. We played at a very high level.”

The Pelicans shot 4 of 23 in the third quarter and Williamson missed all five of his attempts, guarded primarily by the 6-foot-6 Brown. New Orleans did not score after Trey Murphy’s 3-pointer with 4:37 left, going 0 of 6 with three turnovers.

“Jaylen did a nice job of making it very difficult for him (Williamson),” Boston coach Joe Mazzulla said. “He still got his average on free throws, but we kept him out of transition, kept him out of the paint and the guys on the perimeter did a great job of showing help on Zion and making him give up the ball early.”

Williamson and Herb Jones each had 14 points in the first half, when New Orleans led by 11 points after Williamson’s steal and dunk sparked a 9-0 run.

“They definitely hit us first,” Mazzulla said. “Our guys did a great job keeping their poise and responding the way we know how to with our defense and our offensive execution.”

McCollum’s driving layup made it 34-23 late in the first quarter, but Boston chipped away in the second quarter, tying it at 44 on White’s tip-in of Brown’s miss.

White gave the Celtics their first lead when he hit a deep 3 as time expired in the first half, and they continued their run at the start of the third quarter.

“They upped their intensity and we didn’t match it,” Williamson said. “When we decided to match it, the game was kind of out of hand at that point.”

Brandon Ingram missed his fifth consecutive game for the Pelicans with a bone bruise in his left knee. New Orleans was trying to get 18 games above .500 for the first time since being 49-31 on April 12, 2009.

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UP NEXT

Celtics: Visit Charlotte on Monday night to wrap up a six-game road swing.

Pelicans: Host Phoenix on Monday night in the fourth of six straight at home.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA