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Clippers fall 116-110 to Celtics after bench offers no help

Luke Kennard, Nicolas Batum and Terance Mann all finished the game scoreless.

LA Clippers v Boston Celtics Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

When looking at the 2022-23 Los Angeles Clippers, there are indisputable certainties — the presence of two superstars, an excellent coach and a deep roster full of capable hoopers. But in tonight’s 116-110 loss against the Boston Celtics, the depth of the Clippers was in question.

To start the game, the two heavyweight teams came out swinging as they landed and took punches. But this balance was relatively short-lived: With three minutes left of the first half, the Celtics took on a 13-point lead — the young duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were outscoring the 213’s one-two punch of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard by 11 points.

When the game started slipping away from the Clips, it was Leonard that tugged and pulled the game closer to the L.A. side. His 26 points, alongside George’s 24 and Norman Powell’s 19, however, were not enough to steal the game away from the home team.

The Celtics outscored the Clippers by seven points in the final quarter, which was just enough to take the second game of the two teams’ matchup in December.

Now, there are many things to consider — or even blame — when looking back at the box score. Why’d the Clippers lose steam in the final 12 minutes of play? Could Reggie Jackson step up in big games like this? But most noticeably, it’s the team’s bench that couldn’t quite produce the way it used to.

While the team’s frontrunner for the sixth-man spot Powell did drop a noteworthy 19 points off the bench, the rest of the bench crew struggled to find the bottom of the net altogether.

The trio of Luke Kennard, Nicolas Batum, and Terance Mann scored 0 points in combined 30 minutes of play. This hurt the Clippers especially more because these players are key rotational pieces that offer spurts offensively and defensively — and, quite often, change the momentum of the game.

For reference, they are three of only five Clippers (other than Moses Brown, who doesn’t get much playing time) that have positive box plus/minus values. The other two, of course, are Leonard and George.

Not to mention, prior to tonight, the Clippers were 8-1 when Kennard played more than 25 minutes; on the contrary, a less impressive 8-7 when he played less than 25 minutes and a losing record of 5-7 when he didn’t play.

But it’s no surprise that these three bench members have developed into their more prominent roles for a talent-filled team like the Clippers.

Kennard is an off-the-ball shooting machine that can create runs with a flick of the wrist; Mann’s youthful energy and unmatched athleticism help him muscle his way into runs and grab much-needed boards; Batum is a lengthy veteran that can knock down shots and lock down players.

So. when not one but all three of these key parts of the team struggle to make an impact, the team’s performance takes a noticeable toll. And while that doesn’t excuse the Clippers of tonight’s loss, it is a vital takeaway — and a point of growth — as they march into the new year.