New Orleans 103, Boston 96

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NEW ORLEANS (TICKER) —The Boston Celtics could not handle Jamal Mashburn. Now they will have to handle a season-high losing streak.

Mashburn collected 30 points, eight assists and six rebounds as the New Orleans Hornets dealt the Celtics a season-worst fourth straight defeat, 103-96.

“He’s a great player,” Celtics coach Jim O’Brien said of Mashburn. “Great player, an All-Star. He should’ve been an All-Star about eight years. But I don’t think the coaches … I don’t know how we could ever keep Mash off the All-Star team.”

“I thought we played great defense on him,” Boston forward Paul Pierce said. “He hit a couple of fadeaway tough shots. And that’s what All-Stars do. They uplift their team when they need it most, and he was able to do that tonight.”

David Wesley added 18 points and P.J. Brown 12 and 12 rebounds as the Hornets, who had lost four of five, avoided falling below .500 for the first time this season.

“As a club, I think everybody knows we don’t want to fall below .500,” Mashburn said. “I think we’ve all been in that situation before with previous teams. That’s not a good feeling. You always want to go into the (All-Star) break feeling good about yourself.”

“This was a must-win, a clutch win,” Brown said. “We didn’t want to fall below .500 with a tough team (Sacramento) coming in on Wednesday. That would be more pressure. This was probably the biggest game of the year up to this point. If we play like this consistently, we are a tough club to defeat.”

The Hornets went on a 28-7 run bridging the first and second quarters and took their biggest lead, 43-27, on a pair of free throws by Jerome Moiso with 7:27 left in the half.

The Celtics got within 69-68 on a 3-pointer by Pierce with 3:09 left in the third quarter but New Orleans scored the final five points of the period and Boston got no closer than three points over the final 12 minutes.

“We killed ourselves with a bad first half defensively,” O’Brien said. “We just didn’t have enough to win. We played much better in the second half but didn’t play well enough in the first half to really be in the ballgame.”

Pierce scored 27 points and Antoine Walker and rookie J.R. Bremer 20 points apiece for the Celtics, who had not lost four in a row since February 21-March 1.

“We didn’t play with enough intensity in the first half,” Pierce said. “We didn’t come out with the same fire that we did in the second half - that’s the inconsistency that Coach has been talking about. That’s why we are going to be up and down all year long. We were two different teams out there in one game.”

Boston had won the first two meetings between the teams this season, including a 93-83 triumph here on January 8.

New Orleans shot 49 percent (37-of-75) and limited Boston to 42 percent (35-of-83).

“The biggest key tonight was that we executed on offense and I got open looks,” said Mashburn, who has scored 30 points in each of his last two games. “On defense we did a lot of switching tonight and that seemed to take them out of their rhythm. … It was a good game plan that Coach (Paul) Silas had tonight.”

“Look at Antoine’s numbers,” Silas said of Walker. “He was 8-of-24. That’s just what we wanted to do. We didn’t want to give him real good looks. That’s how it worked out.”

George Lynch started for the second time this season for New Orleans and tied a season high with 11 points.

“I decided to use the big lineup yesterday,” Silas said. “It told George that he was going to start. So he had a night to prepare. Pierce is really big - he’s 6-7. With David on him, he’s 6-1. So we have to gimmick our defense. With the big lineup, when Antoine sets a pick, we can switch on him.”

“They played a very big team,” O’Brien said. “It was a good move by Paul to go with Lynch as a starter because they could switch pretty much two through four. And we didn’t always take advantage of the switch on defense.”

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Boston
P. Pierce P. Pierce
8-17,  27 Pts
4 Rebs, 5 Assists
 New Orleans
J. Mashburn J. Mashburn
12-19,  30 Pts
6 Rebs, 8 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists