This trip consists of games the Clippers should win but could give away, and games they should lose but could steal. And when the trip is over, regardless of the final verdict, I have a feeling we're all going to look back and rue this game. Because this one was there to be stolen.
Not even stolen, truth be told. Just flat won. The Celtics, for whatever reason, just aren't playing great basketball right now. You can credit Boston's defense to a certain point for LA's 39% shooting. But there were also a whole lot of missed shots in there. Playing without Eric Gordon for the third straight game, none of the Clippers starters played particularly well. Rasual Butler was OK. Al Thornton was forgettable. Baron Davis was pedestrian. Of course those three were terrific compared to the team's supposed strength, the front court. The Clippers starting bigs, Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby, combined to shoot 6 for 26... 23%.
So it's quite remarkable that they were ahead at halftime and within striking distance almost the entire second half. Unlike the Denver game (which also saw the Clippers ahead by one at the half), where the Clippers played without life and Denver came out and played hard for one quarter to put the game away, I don't fault the Clippers' effort in this one. They were active and effective on the defensive end. They won the rebounding battle. They only gave up 5 offensive boards. They just didn't make shots.
Until Craig Smith got going in the second half, absolutely nothing was working on offense for the Clippers. (Smith finished with 13 points on 3 for 6 shooting and 7 for 10 free throws, 11 points in the fourth quarter.) Other than Smith, there was nothing. Once or twice a quarter, Baron Davis would abuse Rajon Rondo on a drive to the hoop and you'd think "Where has that been the rest of the game?" Most of the time Baron deferred to his teammates. But Kaman was missing wide open 12 footers, and Camby was missing one foot putbacks, and the team just couldn't sustain any momentum.
Ironically, they finally started making some shots after it was too late, going three for three on three point shots in the final 30 seconds. It was too little too late - had they made a few of those before the final 30 seconds (they were 2 for 9 when the ball started going in) it might have been a different story.
So look at this game however you like. Is it encouraging that they were able to hang relatively close, on the road, without Eric Gordon, while so many key players struggled? Or is it discouraging that what will likely be their best chance to beat a winning team on this road trip went by the wayside?
As for the Celtics, they are going to have to play a lot better than this if they expect to return to the NBA Finals.