Ray Allen scored 18 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished out four assists and Paul Pierce chipped in with 12 points and seven boards for the Celtics, who have lost two in a row and three out of four.
Boston was playing its first game without forward Kevin Garnett, who is expected to miss two weeks after suffering a right calf strain in Wednesday’s setback to Detroit.
New Orleans held a 66-57 lead heading into the final quarter before the Celtics then exploded for the next 16 points to grab a 73-66 advantage with 6:27 to go in the game.
Jermaine O’Neal started the fourth quarter run with a dunk and Allen closed it with a jumper and back-to-back trifectas.
The Hornets went almost six minutes without scoring before buckets by Marco Bellinelli and David West trimmed the lead to 73-70 with 5 1/2 minutes to go.
Another West jumper and a triple from Bellinelli put the Hornets back in the lead at 77-75 with a shade more than three minutes to play.
After misses by Allen and Glen Davis, West knocked down a jumper with 54 ticks left. Pierce hit a runner 10 seconds later to trim the lead to three before Ariza missed at the other end.
“Well, when you play this team in Boston you not only need big plays but you have to be poised,” New Orleans head coach Monty Williams said. “I thought our guys were poised when they made that run in the fourth quarter. We didn’t lose sight of winning. We just kept knocking down shots. Against this team, if you lose sight of winning, you give up big plays.”
Allen then hit a pair at the line to slice the lead to 82-81 with 21 seconds to play. West made 1-of-2 from the line with 19.6 ticks remaining but Allen missed a jump shot and the Hornets were able to grab the rebound and run out the clock.
“Right now with so many guys out, our starters have to be solid every night for us to win,” Boston head coach Doc Rivers said. “We had opportunities to win. We turned the ball over 17 times. We had a little bit of ‘hero’ ball. Usually you lose when that happens.”
Layups by West and Okafor in the final minute gave the Hornets a 23-19 lead after the first quarter.
Eight different players scored for the Celtics in the second quarter as they took a 39-37 at the break. New Orleans made just 6-of-19 shots from the field in scoring only 14 points in the period.
Okafor was 9-of-13 from the floor…West shot 8-of-17…New Orleans made 5- of-12 from beyond the arc while the Celtics hit only 3-of-16…Marquis Daniels added 10 points off the bench for Boston, which was outscored 29-18 in the third quarter.