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Clippers-Celtics preview: Doc's homecoming

Doc Rivers takes his new team into Boston to face the team he coached for nine seasons. How will the fans react to his return? More importantly -- how will the Clippers play in the fifth game of a road trip where they've been less than great?

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Harry How
2013/2014 NBA Regular Season

December 11th, 2013, 4:30 PM
TD Garden
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Avery Bradley
Willie Green SG Jordan Crawford
Jared Dudley SF Jeff Green
Blake Griffin PF Brandon Bass
DeAndre Jordan? C Jared Sullinger
Advanced Stats
98.15 (9th of 30) Pace 95.10 (23rd of 30)
105.6 (5th of 30) ORtg 99.9 (21st of 30)
101.0 (9th of 30) DRtg 101.3 (12th of 30)
J.J. Redick (wrist) out
Rajon Rondo (ACL surgery) out
Matt Barnes (torn retina) out
Kelly Olynyk (ankle) out
Reggie Bullock (sprained ankle) out

Maalik Wayns (meniscus surgery) out

The Back Story (the teams split the series last season):

-- 12/27/12 in Los Angeles | Clippers 106, Celtics 77 | Recap Box Score

-- 02/03/13 in Boston | Celtics 106, Clippers 104 | Recap Box Score

The Big Picture:

The Clippers are now 2-2 on their seven game road trip -- but they've yet to look particularly good, save for the second half in Memphis when they went through a hot shooting stretch. The two wins came over an injured Grizzlies team and a tanking Sixers team that managed to sink to lower levels than the Clippers reached in those games. The losses in Atlanta and Cleveland were just terrible, ugly performances. Clearly, losing J.J. Redick has thrown a wrench into the Clippers offensive machinery -- but come on. With Redick and Matt Barnes and Reggie Bullock all out for the next couple of weeks, the Clippers signed veteran Stephen Jackson to provide some depth on the wing. Of course, shot selection and efficiency weren't exactly Jackson's forte in the best of times, so I wouldn't expect him to fix the team's shooting woes. But he's always been a tough competitor and a good defender, plus he can make plays, so he could certainly help the team if his head's on straight. The Clippers' big three of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan all had big games in Philadelphia, which was a welcome sight and essential to the win there. Hopefully they'll get some help in Boston, but maybe they can carry the load again if not.

The Antagonist:

The Celtics made the active and conscious decision to begin a rebuilding process this summer. They kept an aging core featuring Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett together for six seasons, but when Rajon Rondo tore his ACL last season, their championship window slammed shut. So GM Danny Ainge began the painful renovation this summer, and the Clippers played a key role, hiring coach Doc Rivers away from the Celtics -- taking a big salary off of Ainge's hands, and giving Boston a first round pick in 2015 in the process. The Clippers would have taken Garnett from Ainge as well, but NBA Commissioner David Stern put the kibosh on that idea -- so Ainge turned around and sent Garnett and Pierce and Jason Terry to Brooklyn. The Celtics then hired Brad Stevens, the outstanding young college coach from Butler University, and handed him a six year contract. The strange thing about the rebuild is that the Celtics don't suck -- not nearly as much as people expected they would anyway. With Rondo still out and no timetable for his return, a bunch of young nobodies (and Jeff Green) have the Celtics on top of the Atlantic Division and firmly in the playoff picture in the East. Now, it must be said that this is the Atlantic Division and the East -- the Celtics 10-13 record would place them dead last in the Southwest Division and 13th in the Western Conference. But still, no one expected the Celtics to be this good, especially without Rondo.

The Subplots

  • The Questionable Blogger: Be sure to check out this week's Questionable Blogger. Jeff Clark of CelticsBlog was nice enough to answer my questions about the Celtics (which is weird, because usually that dude is mean as a snake). And I answered his questions as well, as you would see for yourself if you bothered to head on over to CelticsBlog.
  • Comparison of key metrics. It was just two weeks ago when we were wondering if the Clippers could possibly be a top 10 defensive unit in the NBA. Well, guess what? They're ninth. Amazing what playing against some really horrid offenses can do for your advanced stats.
  • Doc in Boston. Yes, yes. It's Doc Rivers' return to Boston, where he was head coach for nine years and won a title. Yes, Doc left Boston in strange circumstances, being "traded" to the Clippers in a protracted negotiation this summer, in a move that he may or may not have forced on the Celtics. I don't have a lot to add to this discussion at this time. But if you like you can read more about his Boston homecoming here. Or here. Or here. Or here. Or here....
  • 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.
  • Back-to-back reunions. They're calling this reunion week in Boston, as the Celtics faced the Nets last night (playing against Pierce and Garnett) and face the Clippers today (playing against Doc Rivers). The Celtics lost in Brooklyn, and who knows how emotionally draining it will be for them. The fact is, only a few of the guys on the current roster (Avery Bradley, Brandon Bass, Jeff Green) played more than a season with Garnett and Pierce or for Rivers. No one other than Rondo played more than two seasons under Doc (Green was around longer than two seasons, but missed a year after heart surgery).
  • Division by Subtraction. The Celtics currently lead the Atlantic Division by a game and a half. The Eastern Conference is particularly weak this season, and the Atlantic Division is the weakest part of the Eastern Conference. New York and Brooklyn were supposed to be good -- Boston and Philadelphia were supposed to be rebuilding, and who knows what's going on in Toronto (at this point I guess we can say they too are rebuilding). But the NYC teams have been dreadful (the Nets are 27th in point differential, the Knicks are tied 29th in wins) and someone has to win the Division. Right now, that someone is looking like the Celtics. The whole mess has made incoming NBA commissioner Adam Silver question the concept of divisional alignment.
  • Assists crown. Apropos to nothing, Rajon Rondo officially led the NBA in assists per game last season, while playing in just 38 games. Chris Paul was second in assists per game, and had many hundreds more assists, but at the time it only took 400 total assists (which would be less than 5 assists per game for a full season) to qualify. They've since changed the qualification criteria, but Paul probably won't need that change to lead the league this year.
  • 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.
  • Captain Jax. The Clippers should have a new player with them when the take the parquet floor at TD Garden today. Stephen Jackson was signed to a non-guaranteed contract yesterday to provide some emergency depth on the wing, where the Clippers are currently missing three key contributors (J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes and Reggie Bullock). Jackson is 13 year vet and a former NBA champion who has been a key contributor on some very good teams -- he's also one of the looser cannons in the history of the league. Whether he can help the Clippers, and whether he will behave, remains to be seen. I will say that the combination of Chris Paul and Doc Rivers has as good a chance of keeping Jackson in line as about any other situation in the league.
  • 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. 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. This season, Jordan has suddenly begun to score efficiently -- I'm talking this guy has a career TSP below .500, and suddenly this season his TSP is .578. He was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week earlier this week, which would have been unthinkable when the Celtics acquired him from Washington for an injured Leandro Barbosa last February. Jamal on the other hand had been in the middle of one of his most efficient seasons ever -- until a couple weeks ago when he suddenly stopped making shots. He's shooting 36% in his last nine games, 21% from deep. That of course encompasses the five games the Clippers have played without J.J. Redick, so it was a bad time to go cold.
  • Three point shooting. Oh my sweet FSM have the Clippers been terrible from three point range on this trip. The team is 27-101 on the trip, which my computer-like mind tells me is less than 27 percent. BUT -- nine of those makes came consecutively in the second half of the Memphis game. Aside from that one weird, unsustainably hot streak, they're shooting less than 20% from deep. It's not as if the defense has had anything to do with it. They're just missing shots, and they need to start making them, or they're going to lose a lot of games.
  • So cold, so very cold. Jared Dudley (15-40), Jamal Crawford (19-56) and Willie Green (12-41) -- the only healthy wings on the Clippers roster prior to the Jackson signing -- cannot buy a basket between the three of them on this road trip. The story from beyond the arc is far worse. These guys have got to start making shots.
  • Sully, three point specialist. Second year pro Jared Sullinger was a low post beast as a collegiate player at Ohio State. But he has added a three point shot to his game, and is taking almost four per 36 minutes this season. Only a handful of true bigs -- Kevin Love, Spencer Hawes, Andrea Bargnani and Dirk Nowitzki, really -- take more threes. New Celtics coach Brad Stevens is an advanced stats guy, and he seems to be encouraging all of the Celtic bigs to shoot threes -- Jeff Green (about 3.8 per 36), Brazilian rookie Vitor Faverani (2.9 per 36) and rookie Kelly Olynyk (2.5 per 36) are launching from beyond the arc as well. Basically, only Brandon Bass and Kris Humphries are unwilling from deep. Sullinger is only hitting .316 on his threes, so it's a work in progress. Regardless, the Clipper bigs will have to be prepared to defend out to the three point line tonight.
  • 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:

    Much Ado About NothingAct II Scene 1 -- Beatrice

    The fault will be in the music, cousin, if you be
    not wooed in good time: if the prince be too
    important, tell him there is measure in every thing
    and so dance out the answer. For, hear me, Hero:
    wooing, wedding, and repenting, is as a Scotch jig,
    a measure, and a cinque pace: the first suit is hot
    and hasty, like a Scotch jig, and full as
    fantastical; the wedding, mannerly-modest, as a
    measure, full of state and ancientry; and then comes
    repentance and, with his bad legs, falls into the
    cinque pace faster and faster, till he sink into his grave.

    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 Scotch, instead of Celtic.