Which team just played last night? The Celtics? Who forgot to tell the Clippers?
Despite missing two major contributors, including All-Star and defensive anchor Al Horford, and playing on the tired half of a road back-to-back, the Boston Celtics looked like the livelier of the two teams on tonight’s floor, outslugging the Clippers, 113-102.
The Celtics rediscovered their top-ranked defense and muscular style of play a night after losing to the Lakers. This game was largely played at their tempo and by their rules. They took away three pointers and watched the Clippers pile on by missing the few good looks they got. Doc Rivers’ bunch shot 0-for-the-first-half from deep and finished just 5-of-21 overall.
Lou Williams, who you might’ve heard has been hot hot hot in January, battled his jump shot until it was too late to matter. He managed 20 points, his tenth-straight game with 20 points off the bench according to Brad Turner, but mostly on the strength of his free throws. He converted only 33% of his field goal tries. Lou just couldn’t distance himself from Boston’s long and aggressive defenders consistently enough, and when he did manage to wiggle free, he often missed.
Free throws were one commodity the Clippers collected in abundance. DeAndre Jordan lead the team with 13 free-throw attempts in his return to action — plus a tidy 15 points and 14 boards — thanks to late-quarter hacking and the Celtics’ rumbling style. The Clippers’ 17-attempt advantage over Boston only resulted in six additional points, but all those extra fouls widened the Horford-sized gap already inhabiting the middle, and the Clippers indulged themselves. They scored 30 of their 55 first-half points in the paint to stay within seven points of the Celtics at the break.
Unfortunately, there was no halftime bump. Boston rang up a near-immediate 6-0 run to begin the third quarter, prompting Doc into a quick timeout and a haranguing for his lethargic squad. Blake Griffin and Tyrone Wallace responded. The two ignited a mid-quarter run that closed the Celtics’ lead to three. Blake wasn’t always decisive, but scored a team-high 23 points. Tyrone, who is nothing if not decisive, impressed again with 13.
That was the high-water mark for this game. The Clippers would never seriously threaten the Celtics again, undoing their comeback effort with miscues at both ends. The final 17 minutes were marred by mistakes. The Clippers finished with 19 turnovers and way too many defensive breakdowns.
Brad Stevens’ offense has struggled of late, the primary factor in their now-defunct four-game losing streak, but the Celtics found a soothing balm in the Clippers’ relaxed defense. Boston found space enough to take 40 threes, many of them open, and converted a respectable 35%. Their primary nemesis seemed to be Wes Johnson, who blocked two shots in the first quarter and four overall.
Kyrie Irving lead his team with 20 points and seven assists. It wasn’t his most efficient night, but it was enough. Jayson Tatum tortured poor Milos Teodosic at every opportunity, exploiting the Clippers’ keenness for defensive switches. The talented rookie wing poured in 18.
It was a second consecutive disappointment for the Clippers, who are finally showing signs of cracking under the weight of injury-related absences. Like their loss to Minnesota on Monday, this game was marked by a lack of energy and composure. In the closing minutes, Blake fired a ball with excessive heat toward an official, earning himself a technical.
Frustration is mounting and so are the losses. This defeat dropped the Clippers back below .500 and a full game out of the final playoff spot. This transformative pre-trade-deadline stretch resumes on Friday in Memphis.
- DeAndre Jordan played in his 715th game as a Clipper, tying Randy Smith for the most in franchise history.
- This game was something of a worst-case scenario for Milos. A half-court game against an elite defensive team with several perimeter scorers left him nowhere to run and no place to hide. His inability to create dribble penetration without a screen was exacerbated by Boston’s aggressive defensive scheme. Milos finished with six assists but just two points.
- Montrezl Harrell continues to be a luxurious backup center. He tallied 10 points and seven rebounds in just 18 minutes.
- Boston rookie Semi Ojeleye was whistled for four fouls in a 2:08 span in the first quarter. Four fouls. Two minutes.