When I wrote in the preview for this game about the fact that the Clippers had beaten every other Division leader in the NBA, I was really just making conversation. It never really occurred to me that they would actually win tonight. Not in Boston. Not without Eric Gordon. But LA parlayed a terrific first half into a 20 point lead, and used some clutch shooting to withstand a furious charge by the Celtics down the stretch in order to get one of the remaining big team scalps they hadn't gotten yet.
Another thing I said in the preview was that they needed Blake Griffin to have a huge game in order to have a chance against the might Celtics - I could not have been more wrong. Griffin had one of his worst games in recent memory, arguably one of his worst games of the season. He's only shot a lower percentage twice this season; he's only scored fewer points four times.
Boston's defense had a lot to do with that. They were giving Griffin a LOT of attention, and the refs were letting a lot of contact go (on both ends, so they were consistent). Even so, it was clearly not Blake's night. He didn't make a jumper all game long, and was not his usual self in the paint either. But his impact was still felt on the game. I big part of why the Clippers were able to score a 108 points on the second best defense in the NBA was that the Celtics were giving so much attention to Blake, that other things were open. As Paul Pierce said after the game, "We did a fine job on their star, but we forgot about the other guys."
Chief among those 'other guys' were Mo Williams and DeAndre Jordan, who both definitely benefited from the defensive focus on Griffin. On the pick and roll with Griffin and Williams, the Celtics first priority was clearly cutting off Blake's access to the lane - which meant that his defender was not going to show hard on Williams, which gave Mo enough space to turn the corner or to pull up and shoot. Williams finished with 28 points, by far his best game as a Clipper, and equal to his season-high. Williams made 5 of 7 three pointers, leading the Clippers in what proved to be a decisive area of the game.
DeAndre also reaped rewards from Boston's attention to Griffin. The Celtics seemed content let Jordan roam free in the middle as long as they kept Griffin under wraps - the result was a season high 21 for DJ, the third 20 point game of his career. He was 9 of 10 from the field, with 7 dunks. On his first touch of the game, he blew past Kevin Garnett for a jam, making as a good an offensive move as I've seen from him in three seasons. Most of the rest of the time it was just DJ doing what his does well - being active, finishing lobs, that sort of thing. He even sank two free throws with 15 seconds left to stretch the lead to six - all the more remarkable when you consider that he was 1 for 5 in the game at the time, and 1 for his last 11 overall.
But it was almost for naught. The Clippers had a lead as high as 23 early in the second half, and after losing a good chunk of it in the third quarter began the fourth with six straight to build the cushion back up to 16. But the Celtics of course made a run, and outscored the Clippers 15-2 over the next five minutes to cut the lead down to 3. But on LA's first possession after the lead got down to 3, Williams (who had scored 18 in the first half but only one in the second to that point) suckered Rajon Rondo into fouling him on a three pointer. Williams made all three free throws, the lead stretched to six, and the Celtics never actually had the ball within a score of catching the Clippers the entire second half.
Over the final six minutes of the game, the Clippers made three kinds of shots: dunks (2), three pointers (3) and free throws (9). Those just happen to be the shots that most coaches want, as they are the most efficient shots in basketball. The threes were particularly timely. Beginning with Williams' three free throws, the Clippers had three point trips on four of six possessions, building the lead back up to nine in the process.
The win stretches the team's winning streak to 4 games. The Clippers appear to be very happy to have February over with - they were 2-14 in February, but they're already 4-0 in March, including two straight road wins. With road games in New Jersey and Washington next on the schedule, the Clippers could actually get a decent little road run going here.