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Clippers-Celtics preview: Bounce back time

After by far their worst performance of the season Friday in Toronto the Clippers desperately need to respond with a strong performance today in Boston against Rondo-less Celtics.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

February 3rd, 2013, 10:00 AM
TD Garden
Prime Ticket, NBA-TV, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330
Buy Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Eric Bledsoe PG Avery Bradley
Willie Green SG Courtney Lee
Caron Butler SF Paul Pierce
Blake Griffin PF Brandon Bass
DeAndre Jordan C Kevin Garnett
Advanced Stats through games of Feb. 2
91.6 (15th of 30) Pace 91.2 (19th of 30)
109.3 (4th of 30) ORtg 101.9 (27th of 30)
101.7 (5th of 30) DRtg 102.6 (6th of 30)
Chris Paul (knee) DTD
Rajon Rondo (torn ACL) out
Jamal Crawford (nasal fracture) GTD
Jared Sullinger (back surgery) out
Chauncey Billups (ankle) out

Trey Thompkins (knee) out

The Back Story:

  • December 27 in Los Angeles | Clippers 106, Celtics 77 | Recap | Box Score

The Big Picture:

The Clippers played so badly in Toronto on Friday that it's hard to know what to think moving forward. Does one just dismiss the game as a total outlier, not likely to happen again, or worry that the team is entering a Chris Paul-less funk? The best way to prove that Friday's disaster was a one-off to be ignored is to win in Boston today. The Clippers were at or near season worst levels in myriad categories Friday: points, shooting, assists, steals, forced turnovers, opponent assists. And what's interesting is that the problems occurred on both sides of the ball -- the Clippers played easily their worst offensive game and one of their worst defensive games on the same night. So maybe it's good news if they got that stinker out of their system. Clearly the team needs to get Paul back from injury, but that's not happening yet. Worse still, sixth man Jamal Crawford suffered a nasal fracture in Toronto (maybe his nasal passages froze and shattered?) and is a game time decision for Boston, where he'll wear a mask if he plays. Without Paul, the Clippers often unimaginative offense tends to consist of "iso Jamal" so if neither Paul nor Crawford can play it could get really ugly on offense. Fortunately Blake Griffin has been playing well, and he was at least decent against Toronto, but truth be told his energy level was about as low as the rest of the team. The 1 PM Eastern tip off is notoriously tough on West Coast teams -- NBA players aren't used to early games, and this is a 10 AM Pacific tip. But despite the early tip, the Clippers must come out with energy. Hopefully they'll be eager to make up for their terrible showing on Friday at least.

The Antagonist:

The Celtics got terrible news about Rajon Rondo's knee last week -- and proceeded to win three straight, breaking a six game losing streak. Rondo has a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the season, and now rookie Jared Sullinger, a bright spot for the team this season, needs back surgery and he'll be out for the rest of the season as well. The rash of injuries leaves the team in a tricky situation. They may be able to hold onto the eighth playoff spot in the weaker Eastern Conference, but with Paul Pierce (35) and Kevin Garnett (36) nearing the end of their careers, what's the point? It probably makes more sense to blow it up now, get the assets you can while those guys still have value, grab a lottery pick, and re-load with Rondo next season. Despite Rondo's injury, the Celtics still have some good backcourt players in Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, Jason Terry and Leandro Barbosa (those last two being former NBA Sixth Man Award winners); but it's not clear they could hold off Philadelphia (depending on Andrew Bynum's return and status) even if they wanted to. Besides, the prize for the eighth seed is a first round exit at the hands of the Heat. So far they've responded to the injuries with a lot of focus and passion resulting in three straight wins -- but they will clearly feel Rondo's loss sooner rather than later.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Celtics remain an elite defensive team, but their offense has been abymal (27th in the league), and that was WITH Rondo, who was leading the league in assists.
  • Assists crown. Speaking of Rondo and his injury, Chris Paul is currently second in the NBA in assists per game behind Rondo. The qualification rule for the season assists crown is that the player has to be on pace to play 70 games or total 400 assists. Rondo has only played 38 games this season -- but already has 420 assists, exceeding the magic 400 barrier in his next to last game played. Which means that he will almost certainly officially lead the league in assists per game this season, while playing in fewer than half the games. The qualification criteria seem more than a little arbitrary here -- the criteria for rebounding for instance is 70 games or 800 rebounds, in other words twice as many rebounds. The bottom line is, while Paul (who of course is dealing with an injury himself) will no doubt finish the season with many hundreds more assists than Rondo, it doesn't look like he'll be winning his third assists crown.
  • First meeting. The Clippers destroyed Boston a couple days after Christmas, hanging a 29 point defeat on the Celtics. It was far and away Boston's worst defeat of the season and also the Clippers largest margin of victory over the Celtics in franchise history. The Celtics will be playing for pride today after that fiasco in L.A.
  • Sweep. The Clippers are looking for their first two game season sweep of the Celtics since the 06-07 series.
  • Out of sync. We've mentioned it before, but it seems to be getting worse, not better. With Chris Paul hurt and Eric Bledsoe starting, the Clippers seem to have lost a lot in both their first unit and their second unit. On the second unit, Bledsoe was an agent of chaos, combining with Matt Barnes and Ronny Turiaf to wreak havoc, while Crawford scored and Odom did what was needed. But as a starter, Bledsoe tries to be a more traditional point guard, which frankly makes him far less effective since that's just not who he is. But with Bledsoe resting while his usual running mates are on the floor, the incredibly effective second unit loses their energizer bunny and that unit is not the same either. It's been suggested that perhaps Grant Hill could start at the point, leaving the second team in tact. I'm far from convinced that that's the right solution, but it might be worth a try if Paul is going to be out much longer.
  • Crawford. It could get ugly for the Clippers if Jamal Crawford can't play today. It not at all unusual to see the Clippers "offense" devolve into a series of possessions in which they give the ball to Jamal and get out of the way. It's not a good offense, but the alternative if he's not there could be much worse, because at least Crawford can get a shot in those situations.
  • Sixth men. This game features half of the eight currently active NBA players who have won a Sixth Man Award. Jason Terry and Leandro Barbosa joined the Celtics this season, while Crawford and Odom joined the Clippers. The other former Sixth Man winners still playing are Antawn Jamison, Ben Gordon, Mike Miller and of course Manu Ginobili.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Don't panic. At the end of the day, although the Clippers have lost five of seven including that Toronto fiasco, six of those games were without Chris Paul, and the seventh was with him playing on one leg. It's not exactly news that Paul is important to the team, so how well they play without him isn't particularly relevant to their title hopes. As it happens, the team is 6-5 since he was first hurt, which isn't so bad for a team missing their MVP candidate. How well would OKC do without Durant? Miami without LeBron? Hopefully the team can continue to pick up some wins without him, and get him back sooner rather than later. Then we'll see what's happening.
  • Rondo the rookie. Maybe because Sebastian Telfair was later a Clipper, I remain fascinated by what happened in Boston during Rondo's rookie season. The Celtics had acquired Telfair from the Blazers in the off-season, and both Rondo and Telfair got their chance as the starting point guard. Telfair actually got 30 starts to Rondo's 25, and though the Celtics had made their choice by the end of the season and Rondo was wisely held out of the Garnett trade that sent Telfair and others to Minnesota, it's still strange to look at those two players today and think that it was ever unclear which one was the keeper.
  • Blue uniforms. Ralph and Mike had a discussion about the blue uniforms during the Toronto game, but they were just making stuff up. For what it's worth, by my count Toronto was only the third time the Clippers have worn their blues this season, and one of those games was at home against the Spurs. They also wore them in the second game of the season, against the Lakers in an away game. So unless I'm missing something, Friday was the first time they've worn the new blue uniforms outside of STAPLES Center. It's strange that they haven't worn them more than they have -- but at this point I'm not sure I ever want to see them again. What about it? Did I miss anything? Have they worn the blues another time that I'm forgetting?
  • Connections. Former Clipper Chris Wilcox is now on the Celtics; he's been injured much of the season but returned to action last week and should play tonight. Wilcox was teammates with Lamar Odom on the Clippers for one season. 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 and the two remain close. 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:

    Sell, Sell, Sell -- Barenaked Ladies

    It goes like this, we have no choice; the minarets
    The wailing voice
    And vaguely Celtic music fills the air
    We choose a foreigner to hate
    The new Iraq gets more irate
    We really know nothing about them, and no one cares
    Aladdin and the forty thieves
    Enhanced by brand new special effects
    Saddam and his cow disease spiced up
    With some gratuitous sex
    A movie's made, a war is won
    A low-speed chase, a smoking gun
    Distracts us while the actor takes the stand

    For some reason I've never embraced Barenaked Ladies (wait, what? that didn't come out right). The band BNL is sort of in the Geek Rock genre that I enjoy quite a bit -- clever lyrics, poppy melodies, eclectic. But while my iPod has hundreds of They Might Be Giants and Weezer and Ben Folds Five songs, there's basically nothing from BNL. I'm not entirely sure why that is.