Clippers-Celtics preview: Celtic sweep?

Jared Wickerham

The Clippers are just starting a long stretch without superstar point guard Chris Paul, but after a dominant win over Orlando Monday, they have plenty of confidence as struggling Boston comes into STAPLES Center.

2013/2014 NBA Regular Season
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24-13

13-22
January 8th, 2013, 7:30 PM
STAPLES Center
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Probable Starters
Darren Collison PG Avery Bradley
Jamal Crawford SG Jordan Crawford
Jared Dudley SF Jeff Green
Blake Griffin PF Brandon Bass
DeAndre Jordan C Jared Sullinger
Advanced Stats
97.96 (9th of 30) Pace 95.69 (18th of 30)
106.1 (5th of 30) ORtg 98.6 (23rd of 30)
100.6 (7th of 30) DRtg 103.0 (18th of 30)
Injuries/Other
Chris Paul (separated shoulder) out
Rajon Rondo (ACL surgery) out
J.J. Redick (wrist) out
Kris Humphries (ankle) questionable
Reggie Bullock (sprained ankle) out

The Back Story (The Clippers lead the season series 1-0):

Date Venue Final

12/11/13 Boston Clippers 96, Celtics 88 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

The Clippers are 2-1 without Chris Paul this season, 1-1 since his shoulder injury. After a 24 point loss in San Antonio (that wasn't as close as the final score implied) they posted a 20 point win over the Magic at home (that wasn't as close as the final score implied). And like the Magic, the Celtics are a bad Eastern Conference team that is settling into a tanking groove at this point. Darren Collison had a big game in his first home start as a Clipper, and DeAndre Jordan had his second monster game in the last three. The starting Boston bigs go 6'8 and 6'9 (and that's generous) so if ever there were a night to feed Jordan and see how much he can contribute on offense in Paul's absence, this might be it. Boston is extremely size challenged, and really don't have an answer for Blake Griffin or Jordan. Truthfully, assuming the Clippers don't take them too lightly and come out flat, there's no reason the Clippers shouldn't sweep the Celtics for the first time since 2006-2007, despite Paul's absence. And playing against Doc Rivers' former team, I find it difficult to believe that they're going to come out flat.

The Antagonist:

The last time the Clippers played the Celtics, Boston was leading the Atlantic Division and squarely in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Not that they were actually good, but they were good enough compared to their division and their conference. But they've lost eight of their last nine and have dropped to 10th in the East, which is still in playoff contention in the East, but only because no one is EVER out of playoff contention in the East. There's still no official timetable for Rajon Rondo to return, though he is rumored to be pretty close. He certainly won't play against the Clippers, as the plan seems to be to let him have a rehab stint in the D-League before he gets back on an NBA court. The Celtics are coming into L.A. on a really tough back-to-back, having lost by 31 in Denver last night. The Celtics also made a trade this week, sending Courtney Lee to Memphis for Jerryd Bayless in a money saving move.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers offensive and defensive numbers both improved after their last game, a blowout win over Orlando. Likewise, the Boston numbers got worse after they were blown out in Denver.
  • Homestand. The Clippers four game homestand offers a great chance to stave off any troubles related to Chris Paul's absence. They're already 1-0 after dominating faltering Orlando. Now they've got Boston on a back-to-back and losers of eight of their last nine, followed by the Lakers who have also lost eight of nine, and then Dallas, who the Clippers beat on the road last week playing without Paul down the stretch. A four-and-oh homestand would take them into their seven game road trip with a load of confidence.
  • Jordan the beast. Prior to the Dallas game, DeAndre Jordan briefly disappeared from the top of the NBA field goal percentage rankings, not because he didn't have the best percentage in the league, but because he wasn't shooting enough. To qualify for the title, you have to be on pace to make 300 field goals in the season, which is fewer than four made field goals per game if you play every game, but Jordan wasn't there. Since then he's made 19-29 in the last three games, including a career high 25 point night in Dallas and another monster night against Orlando Monday. In Chris Paul's absence, there are more shots for everyone, and it only makes sense to give Jordan a few more chances, especially against Boston's undersized starting bigs. Of course, Boston can always turn to rookie Kelly Olynyk for some height, but while Olynyk is a legit seven footer, he'd give away a lot in strength to DJ.
  • Doc's old teams. Monday night the Clippers played the Magic, a team Doc Rivers coached for five seasons. Tonight it's Boston, where he was the head coach for nine seasons until last year.
  • Big three. The Celtics present an interesting dilemma in that their starting 'bigs' (the power forward and center, or four and five) are not actually all that big, but their 'small' forward (or three) is actually very big. Jeff Green is as tall as, and quite a bit longer than, either Brandon Bass or Jared Sullinger. Green presents a very difficult challenge for Jared Dudley, and in the first meeting Green almost single-handedly kept the Celtics close with 29 points.
  • Doc's replacement. I remain surprised by the Celtics hiring of Stevens. If one of the reasons for allowing Rivers to leave was to save the $21M or so he had left on his contract, then how does it make sense to pay $22M to Stevens? Yes, that's for a six year contract, but rebuilding teams don't tend to be super patient -- I would have put the over-under on Stevens tenure with the Celtics at way less than three years prior to the start of this season. Things seem to be going well, so we'll see. Not to mention that college coaches don't exactly have the greatest track record of translating in the NBA. Heck, the Rick Pitino experiment in Boston wasn't even that long ago. I loved Stevens' Butler teams and I'll be interested to see how he does in the NBA, but I just find the whole thing very risky.
  • Caught between the playoffs and the tank. The Celtics are pretty squarely in a rebuild obviously, having dealt Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry this summer and now Courtney Lee. Not to mention the fact that Rondo hasn't played a single game. But even after losing eight of their last nine games, the Celtics are only a game out of a playoff spot, with several teams ahead of them who are in the same playoff/tank quandary (like the Bulls for instance). When Rondo returns, the Celtics could see a significant uptick in their performance, which would easily take them into the postseason. But would they rather be in the lottery at this stage of the process?
  • Banners. As the story goes, it was as the Clippers were shellacking the Celtics by 29 a year ago in STAPLES Center that Doc Rivers glanced up at the Laker banners and wondered why the Clippers didn't cover them during their home games.
  • Stephen Jackson. Stephen Jackson's tenure with the Clippers began with the Celtics game in Boston -- and it ended just prior to the rematch in L.A. as the Clippers waived Jackson yesterday. Waiving Jackson was not a surprise as the Clippers needed to avoid making his salary guaranteed for the season and preserve a roster spot going forward.
  • Lots of Crawfords. This game features all of the J. Crawford's in the league. Aside from 23 minutes in April 2009 when Joe Crawford was with the Knicks, it's all of the J. Crawford's in the history of the league. Assignments haven't been announced yet, but Joey Crawford reffed in Miami last night, so he won't be a part of this game -- to bad. The Celtics Jordan Crawford came into the league as a somewhat pale reflection off the elder Jamal -- a chucker who could put up points coming off the bench. But while Jamal has never been a super-efficient scorer, Jordan made him look like Ray Allen. Jordan has cooled off quite a bit since the last time these teams met, but he's still at a career high .536 true shooting for the season. Jamal has been starting for the Clippers in J.J. Redick's absence, and while it's helped the team rebound from a difficult stretch, Jamal is shooting just 38% as a starter this season.
  • Home record. The Clippers are 15-3 at home this season, tied for the second fewest home losses of any team in the league. Only Indiana has fewer home losses, and the Clippers are tied with Oklahoma City for the best home record in the west.
  • Help is on the way. While Paul will be out probably until the All Star break, two other Clippers are getting very close to being able to rejoin the team. J.J. Redick could play as soon as Friday, and will almost certainly play next Wednesday at the latest. Reggie Bullock is on a similar time table, but could even see some action tonight. Actually, it wouldn't completely shock me if Redick got a few minutes tonight. In Paul's absence, having some additional shooting will be helpful, and Redick is a decent playmaker as well, which should be a huge help. Redick's return would also allow the Clippers to move Jamal Crawford back to the bench, which has the multi-layered benefit of helping the second unit, putting Jamal back into his preferred role, and allowing Crawford to play backup point guard for Collison in a more natural substitution pattern.
  • More help on the way? In addition to the injured players, the Clippers could conceivably have a new player in the near future. After waiving Jackson they have an additional roster spot with which to experiment and they may have a player on a 10 day contract in the very near future (possibly even for this game). Rivers seems very focused on playmaking in Paul's absence, and as such might opt for exiled Magic forward Hedo Turkoglu when he clears waivers to play some point forward. It seems likely also that the Clippers will bring the recently waived Maalik Wayns back on a 10 day contract, but hopefully they'll waive Darius Morris before that, rather than have two emergency points on the roster at the same time.
  • Playmaking by committee. In Paul's absence, several different Clippers took on additional playmaking responsibility against the Magic. The team had 30 assists on 35 baskets Monday; it was their fourth most assists on the season, and by far the highest percentage of assisted baskets. Crawford, Collison and Griffin took primary responsibility for filling the void with 8, 7 and 6 assists respectively. One interesting side benefit is that Griffin seems to have no interest in looking for a point guard when he gets a defensive rebound at this point -- without Paul, he figures he can bring the ball up as well as anybody, and he's probably correct. When the rebounder can also lead the fast break it can be very effective.
  • Connections. Ryan Hollins signed with the Celtics late in the season in 2012 and played some key minutes for them in the playoffs. One little known connection is that the franchises were once traded for each other. In 1978, Buffalo Braves owner John Y. Brown traded franchises with Boston Celtics owner Irv Levin. Levin moved the Braves to San Diego to become the Clippers, and in May of 1981 Levin sold the Clippers to Donald T. Sterling. Oh, and there's at least one other connection, which escapes me. It must not be important.
  • Get the Boston perspective at Celtics Blog.
  • Shakespearean reference:

    As You Like It -- Act III, Scene 2 -- Rosalind

    I was seven of the nine days out of the wonder before you
    came; for look here what I found on a palm-tree. I was never so
    berhym'd since Pythagoras' time that I was an Irish rat, which I
    can hardly remember.


    Somewhat surprisingly (though perhaps not) there are not references to "Celt" or "Celtic" in Shakespeare. It's surprising in the sense that, from a modern American perspective, Elizabethan England and Celtic England are vestiges of a long ago era on an island historically related to us. But the Elizabethan's had no connection to the Celts, who were long gone and of no consequence to them by Shakespeare's time. So we're cheating and going with Irish, instead of Celtic.
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