BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics have so routinely rallied from big deficits this season that after they dug themselves out of another double-digit hole during Tuesday's visit from the New Orleans Pelicans, it was almost jarring to see them unable to close out the game.
For the 18th time in a game this season, the Celtics fell behind by double digits. Despite erasing a 12-point deficit while rallying ahead in the fourth quarter, Boston couldn't put away the Pelicans, who saw Anthony Davis put up another absurd stat line (45 points, 16 rebounds) and Jrue Holiday score the final four points in overtime during a 116-113 triumph at TD Garden.
"We can't come back every game," Celtics guard Kyrie Irving said. "It's as simple as that."
It was the 16th time this season that Boston trailed by at least 12 points. Despite their rallying to win nine of those previous 15 games, the Celtics couldn't fend off Davis and the Pelicans.
New Orleans ran with an eight-man rotation while the well-rested Celtics, idle since Thursday's game in London, couldn't close out the game despite leading by five with less than two minutes to play in regulation.
Holiday hit a 3-pointer to tie the game with 1:26 left in the fourth quarter, then New Orleans pulled ahead on free throws. Boston needed a layup from Irving with 11 seconds to go to force overtime.
Holiday hit a pair of pull-up jumpers 29 seconds apart late in overtime, and New Orleans held Boston scoreless over the final 2:11 of the extra session.
"They were feeling pretty comfortable tonight in terms of their offense and what they were doing," Irving said of the Pelicans. "They were making it tough within the lane on my drives and on our penetration.
"When you have two great bigs like that in DeMarcus [Cousins] and Anthony, and Jrue is just solid, and Rajon [Rondo] chipped in as well. They were playing pretty well at a great pace. We were on our heels for a little bit until we started fighting back."
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has stressed in recent days that, while Boston has shown nice resiliency in rallying repeatedly, he'd prefer his team to start games better and not need a big-deficit wake-up call.
Although Irving is second in the NBA in clutch scoring with 104 points, trailing only former teammate LeBron James (117), he'll lament some missed opportunities late in Tuesday's game.
He missed a 3-pointer in a tie game with 1:09 to play in regulation. He atoned with a steal/foul combo but then missed one of the free throws. He missed a potential go-ahead layup with 39 seconds to play in the fourth quarter but did get a finger roll to fall to tie it and force the extra session.
Irving missed three shots over the final 3:26 of overtime, including a contested 3-pointer that would have tied the game with five seconds to play.
"Just a little bit too long," Irving said. "You live with those results, but there were a lot of things that happened throughout the game that got us to that point. We had to fight back and do some things. We had kind of a slow first half, but we fought back and gave ourselves a chance to take it to overtime and then tie the game up with the 3 at the end. We had some other opportunities to take advantage of that didn't go our way. It's part of the game, so just take it as a learning experience."
Irving committed six of Boston's 18 turnovers, and his team-high 27 points came on 24 shots. He added seven rebounds but had only two assists.
"I've just got to be a lot more definitive in my decisions because teams are trying to double me and get the ball out of my hands," Irving said. "I just have to make the right plays, and sometimes tough shots are going to be taken on my end, and I've just got to be ready to knock them in, and if they're not there, then make plays for my teammates."