Don’t let the 3-point halftime deficit fool you. The Clippers looked dead. Lifeless. Like a team protecting a draft pick. Or, frankly, like a team content with its place a tier below the league’s elite.
The opposing Boston Celtics, also a few horsepower short of likely title contention and missing star big man Al Horford, avoided complacency. They played flat out. They bodied up the Clippers. Challenged every shot. They played with force.
Then the Clippers got mad. Physical. Like their opponent. Like a team that was fueled, not suppressed, by their officiating complaints.
The Clippers went on a 41-14 run that spanned a sizable chunk of the third and fourth quarters. 22-5 to end the third. 19-9 over half of the fourth. They made 16 of 18 field goals over one stretch. They did most of that without Chris Paul.
Then they settled into the lead. They withstood body shots from fourth-quarter maven Isaiah Thomas. They countered with haymakers like a Jamal Crawford 4-point play and a Blake Griffin fastbreak slam. They also turned it over and let the lead stay tantalizingly close to Boston.
Then they won.
Got all that?
The easy kudos go to Jamal, who produced his second vintage performance in a row. Two days after sinking the Bulls, the almost-37-year-old dropped 19 on the Celtics on the strength of a 4-for-5 performance from deep. He passed too, handing out 5 assists — tied with Ray Felton for the team-high -- and navigating a Clipper offense that could do little wrong for what seemed like half an hour.
Ray also excelled, giving the team a desperately needed dose of rim-attacking aggression, even after taking a hard fall and scary knock on his head. His 9-point, 5-assist line doesn’t leap from the box score, but he added 2 steals, 2 blocks (!), and recorded a +17 in just 20 minutes, which should be narrative enough for the Clippers’ big run. He, Jamal (+15), and Austin Rivers (team high +20) paced the Clippers in a second-half surge that allowed Chris Paul to sit for all but two minutes of the final quarter.
Chris Paul and Blake Griffin both submitted subtle star performances, their excellence demonstrated less by showy highlights and more through sheer determination. Like the team as a whole, the Clippers’ top duo struggled to find oxygen against a stifling Celtic defense that played to the physical edge of the referees’ broad limits.
Blake scored a team-high 26, 9 from the free throw line, adding 8 boards and 3 assists. CP turned it over (5) more than he assisted (4), but scored 23 and snatched 3 steals.
DeAndre Jordan finished with 15 and 12, but missed 13 of his 16 free throw attempts. He was pulled halfway through the third quarter as Doc Rivers searched for some open space, but DeAndre’s defense backstopping the bench group was key in extending the lead in the fourth.
Give the Celtics credit for their inspired first-half play. They had a large hand in the Clippers’ first-half malaise and made things difficult for much of the night, including the waning minutes when the game should otherwise have been over. Their ball movement resulted in a bevy of open shots, open shots they largely missed, but open shots regardless.
Had Boston converted more than 6 of its 24 first-half threes, the Clippers would have faced a more daunting second-half climb. The Celtics shot just 41% overall. Jae Crowder bricked 6 of his 7 treys. Barring the rampaging Marcus Smart, the Boston bench ground the offense to a halt when Isaiah Thomas left the floor.
Smart was unsurprisingly off-the-mark from deep, but matched his more heralded teammate Isaiah with 12 first-half points. Smart finished with 21, second only to Isaiah’s 32. Isaiah Thomas lived up to his All-Star billing, darting his way inside and out, converting better than half of his field goals. Avery Bradley, who sat out Boston’s loss in Phoenix last night, was the only other Celtic to manage double-digits, scoring 14.
As a unit, the Clippers attempted 47 free throws, 25 of which came in the second half as the officiating tightened up some. But it didn’t tighten up much. This was a brutal game, particularly in the first half, full of post-ups and isolations and looking very much like a throwback to slower-paced days. Time will tell whether the Clippers’ ability to win such a game will bode well for their postseason chances.
- JJ Redick was FRUSTRATED with the physicality. He made a single field goal for 3 points.
- Austin Rivers played 32 minutes, good for second on the team, his role firmly entrenched.
- The Clippers scored 41 in the fourth quarter after managing just 43 in the first and second quarters combined.