The Los Angeles Clippers lost a heartbreaker Wednesday night in Boston as the Celtics came up with a 139-134 overtime win. It was exciting from the jump, and the Clips were led by 35 points and 13 assists in a whopping 47 minutes from Chris Paul. DeAndre Jordan scored 21 points and corralled 16 rebounds, and J.J. Redick chimed-in with 27. The Celtics, playing the second half of a back-to-back, got 36 points and 11 assists from Isaiah Thomas as well as 21 points, 11 boards and seven assists from Jared Sullinger.
Both teams got off to hot starts offensively, which was a pleasant sight following the sluggish starts in each of the Clips' last two games. The teams were deadlocked at 19 heading into the first timeout, with LAC shooting 61% (8-for-13) and Boston connecting on 60% (9-of-15) of their shots. Shockingly, two of the Clipper misses were botched Luc Mbah a Moute layups. Shocking, I tell you!
Defense seemed optional at this point, with the Celtics getting several buckets as a result of lazy Clipper defense, including a fastbreak dunk for Jae Crowder immediately following a DeAndre Jordan flush on the other end. Jared Sullinger proved problematic for L.A., as well. He scored 10 in the first period alone, and his ability to shoot pulled Jordan further from the hoop than the Clippers would've liked. Boston also worked a few high screens to get Wesley Johnson matched up against Isaiah Thomas for several possessions late in the period, which didn't go very well for the Clippers.
Following their collective 3-for-10 start from the floor in Philly on Monday, J.J. Redick and Chris Paul started this game ablaze. The backcourt combined to hit seven of their first eight attempts and scored 17 of the Clips' 37 points in the quarter. Jordan was also incredibly active scoring 11 points (including a thunderous dunk over the head of Marcus Smart) along with six boards in the quarter. He also hit a pair of free throws after Brad Stevens attempted to deploy the hack against him, which, thankfully, prevented Boston from doing so again in the first.
The Clippers shot 64% and hit four of their six triple tries in the first frame, yet led by only four heading into the second.
Once the starters hit the bench, the Clippers had a hard time keeping up with Boston's deep reserve unit. LAC built their lead up to 41-33 before a quick 9-0 Celtics run put the home team back in front. Cole Aldrich picked up three fouls in a matter of four minutes which forced Doc Rivers to run D-League All-Star Jeff Ayres out there for a spell. And he actually did stuff! Ayres picked up a bucket following an offensive rebound and was later rewarded for running the court well with an easy slam on the break.
The starting group (minus LMAM, plus Jamal Crawford) returned to try and restore order, but Boston drilled three consecutive triples to take a 55-49 lead about halfway through. Smart, who's shooting a cool 28% from three-point range on the season, hit three of them in the second quarter alone. The Celtics aren't a good shooting team in the first place (25th in 3P%), but they couldn't miss from deep in the first half. Plenty of their looks were alarmingly open, too.
The Clippers were able to do plenty of scoring themselves, but Boston wasn't having many empty trips. They canned six threes in the frame on their way to a 38-point second quarter and a 71-64 halftime lead. Going 17-for-18 from the foul line didn't hurt their cause, either. Kelly Olynyk took a knock from Jordan late in the half and injured his shoulder. He'd sit the rest of the game.
The Celtics made an adjustment following the break, starting Smart over Amir Johnson, who played only seven minutes in the first half. Boston came out of the locker room with all sorts of defensive energy, thanks in part to Smart's roving ball-hawking. Crawford was inserted for Mbah a Moute less than four minutes in in an attempt to boost LAC's offensive firepower as the turnovers began to mount. The Clips turned it over three times in the first four minutes of the half and the Celtics took advantage, increasing their lead to 81-69.
With the prospects of losing their grip on the game getting very real, LAC decided to buckle-down defensively. After turning the ball over just twice through the first 30+ minutes, the Celts coughed it up on three straight trips which let the Clippers crawl back to within four at 85-81. Redick missed a pair of shots on one possession after that, though, and another Crowder three-ball put Boston back up by seven. J.J. landed awkwardly on his ankle after one of the aforementioned missed shots and had to leave the game. Luckily, he was able to return later on.
Crawford missed a driving scoop shot that would've cut the deficit to three before five straight points from Thomas put Boston back up 10 late in the third. CP3 then swished a triple right in Jonas Jerebko's face to make it 98-91 going to the fourth.
The Celtics put Lawler's Law into effect less than a minute into the fourth with a bucket from Tyler Zeller. CP drained another three at Jerebko's expense before Wesley Johnson swatted a Jonas layup on the other end. Lance Stephenson was hit in-stride streaking down the floor for a layup on the subsequent break, and, all of a sudden, the Clips had tied things up at 100.
Then, the threes started to fly. Paul, Jerebko and Stephenson each hit consecutive longballs as the teams continued to seesaw back and forth. In true Clipper fashion, Lance picked up a T for "taunting" Boston's bench after hitting his shot. A Crawford triple and a nice driving Redick layup put L.A. back in front 111-107 just past the halfway point of the fourth. The Clippers were playing with unbelievable energy at this point, flying all over the floor on both ends. A soaring offensive board and putback from Lance and a nifty oop from Jamal to D.J. put the Clippers up 116-111.
With momentum clearly going the other way, frustration was starting to set in for the Celts as Isaiah Thomas picked up a technical foul. Up three with just over a minute to play, Jordan was fouled on his way to the basket, which, in a normal game, would've been a pretty poor possession for the Clips. This was no normal game, though. D.J. calmly knocked down both foul shots, making him a tidy 8-for-13 from the stripe on the night. Huge.
Unfortunately, Jordan's luck didn't last long. He missed a pair of free throws with the Clips up by two and 23 seconds to go. Thomas then hit a floater over D.J. on the next trip down to knot things up with about five seconds left. CP3 couldn't connect on a would-be game-winner, so we headed to overtime for the second straight game.
As they are wont to do, the Clips ran a play for J.J. on the first possession and he made that decision pay-off quite nicely. He hit a three coming off a screen plus the foul, giving L.A. a four-point advantage right out of the gate. J.J. got fouled again on a three-point attempt on the very next possession, but made just two of the three ensuing free throws. The Clippers were suddenly up six before the Boston crowd even knew what had happened.
Of course, the Celtics wouldn't go away quite yet. The Clippers were getting fouled literally each time down the floor but tired legs seemed to start catching up to them. Paul missed two free throws while Crawford, Redick and Jordan each missed one, as well. A Sullinger three and five straight points from Turner suddenly put the Celts back in front by three with over a minute left in the extra session. Danger time once again for the Clippers.
Paul and Turner traded buckets before Pierce bricked what would've been the game-tying longball. True to his name, Turner then turned the ball over (pause for applause), which gave Los Angeles the basketball with the chance to tie with 21 seconds remaining.
Boston was ready for the inbounds play that would try and generate an open look for Redick and completely blew up the play. LAC had to settle for an off-balance, deep Crawford triple try that rimmed-out. Jerebko got the rebound, hit two free throws and the Clippers were finally beaten.
This was an amazing game and a gutty effort from the Clippers in the last game before the All-Star break. Still, you can't help but feel as though they let this one get away. They were up six before one minute of overtime had even passed, yet missed free throws down-the-stretch came back to haunt them in a big way. CP3 didn't sit for a single second after halftime, and he may well have run out of gas towards the end. LAC shot 34-for-50 from the foul line, while Boston went 32-for-37. With poor foul shooting combined with the Celtics repeatedly beating them to 50/50 balls and timely rebounds, you need not look further to figure out how the Clips came out on the losing end.
This wasn't a defensive game to write home about from either club, obviously. The Clips shot 52% from the floor and 40% from three, while the Celts connected on 50% of their shots and 39% of their triples. Switching everything on defense late also cost the Clippers dearly, as Jordan repeatedly found himself switched onto Thomas, who used his speed advantage wisely. This is the second straight game that the "switch everything" defensive scheme has hurt L.A. repeatedly, and teams are going to keep exploiting it if the Clippers keep employing it.
However, it's an effort the Clippers should still be fairly proud of. Boston has been playing incredibly well of late and LAC remains incredibly shorthanded. What would've been a landmark victory turned out to be an unfortunate loss. With consecutive overtime games at the end of a lengthy east coast road swing, the All-Star break is coming at a great time for the Clips.
We'll next see LAC (35-18) Thursday, February 18th for a national TV showdown with the San Antonio Spurs at STAPLES Center.