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Clippers-Celtics Preview: Clipper Quinceañera?

The Clippers winning streak just keeps going. They can make it 15 in a row tonight against the disappointing Celtics.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

December 27th, 2012, 7:30 PM
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Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Rajon Rondo
Willie Green SG Jason Terry
Caron Butler SF Paul Pierce
Blake Griffin PF Kevin Garnett
DeAndre Jordan C Jason Collins
Advanced Stats through games of Dec. 26
91.8 (15th of 30) Pace 91.6 (18th of 30)
110.3 (4th of 30) ORtg 103.5 (17th of 30)
99.8 (3rd of 30) DRtg 103.4 (10th of 30)
Chauncey Billups (ankle) out
Avery Bradley (shoulder surgery) out
Grant Hill (knee) out
Chris Wilcox (thumb) out
Trey Thompkins (knee) out

The Back Story:

First meeting of the season. The Celtics won the only meeting between the teams last season.

The Big Picture:

The Clippers have won 14 in a row and show no signs of letting up now. We're past talking about franchise records with the win streak; 14 ties them for the longest winning streak in the league in four years, and 15 would tie them for the third longest streak in over a decade. They haven't really been challenged in a while on this streak and dismantled a very good Denver team Christmas night. The defense, particularly the second unit and while Chris Paul and Blake Griffin play with Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes, has been the catalyst behind the decisive runs in most of the games. Invariably the teams exchange baskets for a time, but eventually the Clippers lock down on defense, get a series of stops, and that defense fuels their fast break. When they get it going, it feeds on itself -- defensive stops lead to fast breaks and dunks, which energizes the team and leads to more defensive stops. The starters got to rest in the fourth quarter against the Nuggets after handing off a 19 point lead to the reserves, so everyone should be well rested. That's good, because the Clippers have a tough turnaround on deck, flying to Utah immediately after the game to tip off against the Jazz about 20 hours after the conclusion of this one.

The Antagonist:

The Celtics have been trying to hang on with their aging roster for a while. Last year they almost turned back the clock, but didn't have enough against the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. They then lost Ray Allen to the Heat in the offseason, while Paul Pierce (35) and Kevin Garnett (36) each got a year older. Signing 35 year old Jason Terry in the summer didn't exactly help them get younger either. They still have talent, with Pierce, Garnett and Rajon Rondo forming an impressive big three and still producing at elite levels. But they lack quality size and just don't have the athleticism to run and jump with teams like the Clippers. The Celtics know they'll have to start over at some point -- they were hoping they could hold off a bit longer, but this squad, which has scored 2620 points this season while giving up 2618 appears destined for a .500 season and a first round playoff exit, even in the weak Eastern Conference.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers continue to be among the league leaders in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The Celtics have been among the best defensive teams in the league ever since Kevin Garnett arrived in town, but as the roster ages it gets harder to get stops and they are down to 10th in the league. Still good, but not what they once were.
  • Best record. In a way it's amazing that it took this long, but after 14 consecutive wins, the Clippers now have the best overall record in the NBA. It's now as it other teams are playing poorly -- the Thunder, Spurs, Heat, Knicks and Grizzlies all continue to play rally well, but it's the Clippers who are on top for now. Perhaps most impressive is the +9.7 average margin of victory, more than a point better than any other team in the league.
  • Chippy last year. The game between these teams last year featured technicals, hard fouls, trash talk and stare downs. Not sure what set them off, but Garnett is one intense dude, and probably feels like he needs to put Blake Griffin in his place at some level. Expect it to get chippy again -- you can probably expect Matt Barnes to pick up technical number 9.
  • Courtney Lee. Courtney Lee was one of the more coveted shooting guards during the offseason, and I'll admit that in many ways I would have preferred him over Jamal Crawford on the Clippers. Lee is a "3&D" wing, a good defender who can also hit three pointers. Except he suddenly can't hit three pointers. He's been a huge disappointment in Boston, where they had penciled him as the starter. They had planned to bring Jason Terry off the bench as he had done in Dallas, but Lee was so bad they soon put Terry into the starting lineup.
  • Jason Collins? Really? The Celtics signed journeyman center Jason Collins in the offseason. He began the season at the end of the bench, but has been the starting center for the last three games. The Celtics can't decide whether to go small with Garnett at the 5 or play bigger with Garnett at the 4, but the bigger problem is that they just don't have enough quality in the front court. Brandon Bass is shooting just 43% from the field and Jeff Green hasn't really panned out. They were even using former Clipper Chris Wilcox as an available big body, and he hasn't been a productive NBA player in years. But Jason Collins? Really?
  • So many weapons. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Clippers 14 game winning streak is that they've rarely had to rely on Chris Paul or Blake Griffin to carry them. The team has so many weapons that most nights they can win with a solid night from their superstars. This is a major contrast to last season when Paul in particular had to put in a herculean effort night after night for the team to succeed. This season, some night's it's Jamal Crawford carrying the load, or Eric Bledsoe, or Matt Barnes... any number of players can step up, and all ten players in the rotation are making major contributions.
  • Bledsoe and Rondo. Eric Bledsoe is such a unique NBA talent, one tends to look around the league to see if there are other similar players. He's referred to as mini-LeBron, and I've compared him to Russell Westbrook in regards to his raw athleticism at the point guard position. But he also shares some characteristics with fellow Kentucky Wildcat Rajon Rondo. Both are uncommonly good rebounders from the point guard position, both are menaces on the defensive end. But Rondo isn't nearly the pure athlete that Bledsoe is and Bledsoe doesn't have the court vision or ability to distribute that Rondo has.
  • An early night? The Clippers have made it a habit, especially during the winning streak, of putting teams away early. The second unit, which is of course capable of winning games all on their own, has given the starters the fourth quarter off many times this season, including Christmas night against Denver. If ever there were a time for that sort of game, this would be it. The Clippers have a brutal turnaround for their next game, tipping off in Utah about 20 hours after the conclusion of this game. The Clippers have the luxury of depth such that most nights no one has to log big minutes. That should come in very handy tonight.
  • Seven games in 10 days. It's not just this back-to-back that will test the Clippers depth and stamina. Starting tonight they play seven games in the next 10 days, including three sets of back-to-backs. They face key opponents as well, as they will play the Warriors twice and the Lakers once in that stretch. The Warriors will actually get to play the Clippers twice on the back end of back-to-backs, a huge gift to the team that is currently second in the Pacific Division.
  • Perfect December? The Clippers will be big favorites in tonight's game, playing at home against a pretty mediocre Celtics team. Tomorrow night in Salt Lake City was the game that I always picked for a schedule loss in December, but Mo Williams is out with a thumb injury so suddenly that game looks much more winnable, and the Clippers play the Jazz again on Sunday in L.A. Suddenly a perfect, 16-0 December is looking very possible.
  • National TV. After last night's win on ESPN, the Clippers are now 6-1 on ESPN and TNT this season. Those games also tend to be against the top competition, so it's a very impressive record on national TV. Tonight's game is on TNT, and chance for that network to rave about the Clippers some, and the Clippers have responded well to the spotlight this season. None of this bodes well for the Celtics.
  • Connections. Former Clipper Chris Wilcox is now on the Celtics, though he will miss this game with a sprained thumb. Chauncey Billups was originally drafted by the Celtics, third overall, way back in 1997, but was traded away in his rookie season. Billups was a teammate of Kevin Garnett in Minnesota. Ryan Hollins signed with the Celtics late in the season last year and played some key minutes for them in the playoffs. Celtics coach Doc Rivers played for the Clippers back in the early 90s, and Rivers and Vinny Del Negro were later teammates in San Antonio.
  • Get the Boston perspective at Celtics Blog.
  • Lyrical reference:

    Celtic Blues -- Spinal Tap

    As I look back on the colors of my life
    I see them in faded hues.
    The red of the blood of the orange and the green
    The gray of the sky and the moon's silver sheen
    All give me the celtic blues...

    I'm glad the Clippers only play the Celtics twice, because Celtic lyrics are not easy to come by. Spinal Tap is more a comedic choice than a musical one, but after this I'm left with a whole lot of House of Pain (Boston rappers who also happen to be hoops fan who reference the team A LOT) and not much else.