The last time the Pelicans played the Celtics, New Orleans was a team just coming together. But Ryan Anderson went down, and more injuries further sapped what could have been.
The Boston Celtics coming to play Sunday at Smoothie King Center is a reminder of when the New Orleans Pelicans’ season went south.
The Pelicans (23-39) were just 12-16 the last time they played the Celtics (22-44), on Jan. 3 in Boston. However, the Pelicans were 9-10 with forward Ryan Anderson back after missing the first nine games with a broken toe, and a team with new pieces had shown signs of jelling.
“We won some games, but we just didn’t have enough time on the court with Tyreke (Evans), Ryan, (Anthony Davis), Jrue (Holiday) and Eric (Gordon) to really cement that group,” Coach Monty Williams said. “And that’s the tough part about this year, not getting that group a chance to go through all these kinks and work out a lot of the things that you have to work out during a season.”
Anderson was injured against the Celtics when Boston small forward Gerald Wallace ran into him from behind while playing pressing defense against the Pelicans’ Darius Miller.
Anderson was moving left, and the two collided. Anderson lay on the court for several minutes as a hushed crowd watched. When he moved his arm, there was an audible release of relief, followed by a cheer.
Anderson was taken to the hospital on a stretcher and diagnosed with a cervical stinger. Later, it was determined he had two herniated discs. That was the last game he played this season.
Asked what the Pelicans lost when Anderson was injured, Williams said: “Obviously shooting, spacing of the floor. Ryan is another post-up option, and he gives you rebounding and a guy that has experience. You lose a lot. It was a tough day when we lost him up in Boston.
“Thankfully, we won that game, but you never forget those moments when a guy is on the (floor) and can’t feel his arms, and you don’t know what to think.”
At the time, Anderson was the Pelicans’ leading scorer at 19.8 points per game and second-leading rebounder at 6.5, and he led the NBA in 3-point percentage at 40.9 percent after finishing second in 3s made last season.
However, Anderson also had moxie and a hard-hat approach to go along with his experience and deep outside shooting. Roberts, who threw the pass when Anderson was hurt, said more than a great player was lost.
“He’s a guy who can change the game with his shooting ability, and just a guy that we rallied around,” Roberts said. “He’s a good guy on and off the court, and he’s just somebody who’s a leader for this team. It’s been a major loss, but we just tried to rally and fight.”
The Pelicans have gone 11-23 since Anderson was injured, but that record also encompasses point guard Holiday being lost since Jan. 10 with a fractured right tibia and center Jason Smith also going out for the season eight days later with a right knee cartilage injury.
“Our guys have certainly battled and haven’t given in to all the guys we’ve lost this season,” Williams said. “And we certainly won’t use it as an excuse. And we’re going to approach the game (Sunday) the same way we always do.”
The Pelicans come into the game with consecutive losses after starting a stand of 10 out of 11 games at home with three consecutive wins. In both losses, the Pels had late leads before succumbing to Memphis Grizzlies and Portland, who are in playoff positions in the Western Conference.
“We have to play a complete game,” Williams said. “We had two games where we played one game 45 minutes; (Friday) night, we played to about 42 minutes. Just putting together a complete game and carrying out our execution at a high level (are needed).”
Since the first meeting in Boston, the Celtics have gotten back starting point guard Rajon Rondo, a four-time All-Star and All-Defense team member, and key backup guard Avery Bradley, an intense defender.
Players from the Grizzlies and Trail Blazers said a key to stopping the Pelicans late was to play physical defense against them. Roberts said he’s aware of Rondo and Avery.
“Rondo is coming off an (ACL) injury, but he does a lot of things well for his team,” Roberts said. “We know they are going to be aggressive (defensively). We just have to be ready for that.”
Wallace, involved in the play with Anderson, had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee and remove bone spurs from his left ankle March 4 and is out for the season. Wallace, a 13-year veteran, had never had surgery in his career.