It was a night of alpha stars for the LA Clippers and Boston Celtics, Kawhi Leonard vs. Jayson Tatum, and Tatum’s team came out ahead, the Celtics beating the Clippers 119-115 Friday at Staples Center.
Tatum had 34 points and seven rebounds, and Leonard notched 28 points and 11 rebounds, but the Clippers star missed a couple particularly costly shots down the stretch, and the road team came back to win after LA controlled the first two and a half quarters.
Paul George was ruled out before Friday’s game with a toe injury, head coach Ty Lue noncommittal on how long it could sideline him in the moment. As a result, Luke Kennard got the start at shooting guard in George’s place, with the rest of the starters staying consistent, Reggie Jackson again starting at point guard with Patrick Beverley out.
As they typically do, the Clippers raced out to a quick start, and while the Celtics made up some ground in the opening minutes, they ended the 1st quarter with LA leading 33-21. Kennard scored eight points and went 3-for-4 in the opening quarter.
It was pretty similar in the 2nd quarter, the Clippers getting up to a 16-point lead, but the Celtics stayed within reasonable distance, the teams entering the halftime pause with LA up 62-51. Leonard paced the Clips with 14 points through two quarters, Kennard right behind him with 13.
It seemed like the Clippers were firmly in control of the game as the 3rd quarter got underway, but Boston very quietly clawed their way back into the game by the midpoint, with an 11-0 run capped off by a Grant Williams 3-pointer that gave the Celtics their first lead of the night to make it 74-73. Fortunately, the Clippers had an immediate answer to regain the lead.
But the Celtics wouldn’t back off and were more clinical in the dying minutes of the 3rd quarter and got the lead up to 10 points, before the stanza ended with Boston leading 89-82.
But by the midway point of the final quarter, the Clippers tied up the game at 102-102, Leonard coming off the floor just before the tying basket after being inadvertently poked in the eye. The star player missed over a minute of action as he was attended to on the sideline.
Lue put his starting unit, with Marcus Morris Sr. in for Jackson, in for the final four minutes, and they produced, tying up the game and taking a 108-106 lead. But then they made the mistake of fouling Carsen Edwards on a 3-point attempt right after that, and the Celtics player made all three to push Boston ahead by a point.
It looked like LA may not have enough to get the lead again, but Leonard hit a pass while he was flying out of bounds to Lou Williams, who buried a 3-pointer to put the Clippers ahead by a point with 45.8 seconds to play. But turnovers on both sides led to Kemba Walker hitting a jumper to put the visitors up a point. Leonard missed the attempt on the next play, and then missed a 3-point shot in the dying seconds that would have tied the game, and the Celtics held on to win, even with Williams burying a deep 3 late to give the Clippers hope.
It’s safe to say had George been in the game, the Clippers likely would have run away with it, but injuries happen and you have to cope. The Celtics were missing one of their stars, Jaylen Brown, to injury as well. On this night, going mano a mano, Tatum outmatched Leonard, which happens. And honestly, the Clippers haven’t had many close games this season, and they could use some to figure out how to close tight matchups well in the dying minutes before the playoffs arrive.