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Clippers-Celtics Preview: Uphill Battles

Both teams sat tight at the trade deadline and both teams are on the outside looking in at title contention.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Clippers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Picture:

Jamal Crawford lifted the Clippers to a surprising road win in Chicago on Saturday, clearing some of the rubble that remained from last week’s two-game demolition. In another surprise, the reintegration of key cog Chris Paul has not fixed Doc Rivers’ basketball apparatus. The Clippers look uninspired, sporting the league’s 26th-worst net rating since the All-Star break, a period over which they’ve repeated a loss-loss-win pattern. The offense is off its pace but its the defense that is again the main culprit. If the team were a charity, we would be praising them, but, alas, they will not be measured by the heights of their generosity toward opponents. The end of the season approaches quickly and the West’s third seed is effectively out of sight. If the Clippers desire to seize some momentum and a home-court advantage for at least the first round, then they’d better start pedaling. It’s all uphill from here.

The Antagonist:

Speaking of repeated patterns, the asset-rich Boston Celtics sat on their own riches again. General Manager/President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge played the part of Scrooge McDuck, hoarding his pretty pennies and prospects and preparing his team to enter the postseason on the 5’9” shoulders of fowl-sized scorer Isaiah Thomas. The Celtics boast enviable depth and versatility, but as the Clippers can attest, its hard to reach the mountaintop when your best player can barely see over the dashboard. Brad Stevens’ men will be a formidable match for these reeling Clippers, but they’re seeking victories over Eastern powers Cleveland and Toronto in the spring. Making their own uphill ascent, it remains to be seen whether saving for later leaves the Celtics a few horsepower short.

The Subplots:

  • Comparison of Key Metrics: Look at the table — these teams mirror one another closely. The Celtics even commit personal fouls at nearly an identical rate to the Clippers. They rank 17th and 16th respectively. But the Celtics’ commit fouls that lead to points. They’re 26th in free throws allowed. The Clippers can live on the line if they choose to, and if they want to score easily, they should choose to.
  • The Schedule: As Adithya highlighted in his recap of Saturday’s victory over the Bulls, the Clippers fly back out to the midwest for back-to-back tilts in Minnesota and Memphis beginning Wednesday.
  • Broadcast Bias: Tonight’s game will air on TNT and Prime Ticket, should you use to wish to stick with Ralph Lawler and Mike Smith.
  • Jamal of a Certain Age: Let’s applaud Jamal Crawford one more time for a vintage performance. The veteran guard, who turns 37 in two weeks, poured in 25 in 25. The Celtics’ trade deadline inactivity was perhaps the league’s biggest non-trade story, but Doc choosing to stick with what he’s got could have similar repercussions in this coast’s playoffs. With the bench in shambles again, Jamal’s one-man show, as infrequent as it’s been, is something that should never grow old.
  • The Pentagon? The Pentagon: That’s what The Boston Globe wants to call the Celtics’ five-man defensive terror-of-a-lineup with the fearless Marcus Smart, trade-fodder Avery Bradley, precocious rookie Jaylen Brown, also trade-fodder Jae Crowder, and the venerable Al Horford. Bradley sat last night’s front end of a back-to-back but is expected to play tonight. Horford is questionable to play.
  • Isaiah’s Quarter: If you haven’t already read one of the roughly 10 million stories and counting on Isaiah Thomas’ fourth-quarter rampages, here’s one from ESPN, and another from Ball Don’t Lie, and even one more from Deadspin. Concerning tonight’s game, if the Clippers keep it close, we should be in for one heck of a show considering Chris Paul’s own knack for crunchtime heroics. It should be noted that Thomas was outdueled by fellow waterbug Tyler Ulis last night in Phoenix.
  • For more on the Celtics, check out the aptly named Celtics Blog.