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Shorthanded Clippers drop a close one in Boston

The team was without Kawhi Leonard due to pregame back spasms and lost Marcus Morris Sr. for the second half with a concussion.

Los Angeles Clippers v Boston Celtics Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

The last five Clippers vs. Celtics games have all been instant classics, and with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George set to face off against Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the stage was set for another epic chapter.

Alas, the Clippers were dealt an unexpected surprise pregame when Kawhi Leonard was a late scratch with back spasms. The Clippers fought gamely in his absence, but they came just short against the Celtics without their best player, losing 117-112.

The Clippers brought the fight to start. Paul George in particular was outstanding in the first half, showing a strong commitment to attacking the basket. He took three shots in the paint and earned three free throws while also creating multiple openings with drive and kicks. George had 21 points in the first two quarters, helping offset Leonard’s absence.

Reggie Jackson was pressed into the starting lineup and did his best to bring some pace for the Clippers. He had a nice finish in transition and created a corner three attempt for Serge Ibaka. Jackson also a couple of catch-and-shoot jumpers to score 10 in the first half. Marcus Morris Sr. also added 10 points, flashing some smooth moves in the post against smaller defenders. Unfortunately, Morris caught an inadvertent elbow from former teammate Jaylen Brown on a rebound and suffered a concussion, ruling him out for the rest of the game.

The shorthanded Clippers still gave it a go in the third quarter. Jackson was the engine for those 12 minutes, scoring 12 points and finishing with a season-high 25. The Clippers turned to zone defense to throw off Boston’s rhythm, and also to manage their limited rotation’s minutes, and it helped to stagnate the Celtics. One unintended consequence was series of lobs over the top to Robert Williams, but overall, the zone served its purpose.

Defensively, the Clippers did pretty well on Jayson Tatum, but his co-stars came to the rescue. Payton Pritchard, Williams, and Tristan Thompson were all in double figures, and Jaylen Brown made his first five shots en route to 18 points. Meanwhile, Kemba Walker proved to be the latest in a line of smaller, shifty guards to make mincemeat of the LA defense, tallying 25 points on 8-of-19 shooting.

Still, the Clippers had a one-point lead heading into the final quarter thanks to a Lou Williams buzzer-beater to end the third. But the team started to run out of gas then. The Celtics went on a 23-11 to put the Clippers into an 11-point hole with just under five minutes to play. LA had good ball movement, but their jumpers were short. The Clippers made a valiant effort at a comeback, getting to within two with 11 seconds to play.

They wouldn’t get any closer. George finished with 32 points, but he missed five threes in the fourth when the game was in the balance. Meanwhile, Williams was inefficient from the field, leaving the team without a third consistent scorer.

This is just the second losing streak of the season for the Clippers, who will finish out the first half of the season Thursday against Washington.