Tonight’s matchup of the Celtics vs. the L.A. Clippers served as another opportunity for Boston to assert itself as a team that could hang with the NBA’s best. Sadly, it was a complete collapse, nationally televised no less, in which a nearly 20-point Cs lead somehow ended up a 14-point loss.
THE GAME FLOW
The Clippers offense looked like a well-oiled machine under Chris Paul’s stewardship, but Boston had beacoup hustle on defense (likely to wash the sting of Sunday’s wasted opportunity against Phoenix out of their mouths) and thus scrapped in the paint on both ends, preventing the Clips from getting far ahead. Both squads played physical, and the game ground away slowly as a result. Nonetheless, Isaiah Thomas scored 10 in the first to establish a slim lead at the end of the first quarter.
L.A. couldn’t regain ground in Q2, despite Boston’s shooting staying below 40 percent for much of that span. A lead in second-chance points and rebounds kept them ahead. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin looked like 90 percent of their usual selves, but were also the team’s only offensive punch. On Boston’s side, I.T. and Marcus Smart did the damage, the latter hitting jumpers and post buckets to the tune of 12 points in the half. Brad Stevens will deign to employ the hack-a against DeAndre Jordan, and slowing the Clips offense down contributed to the Celtics’ 46-43 halftime lead.
With Al Horford out for the second consecutive game, Boston’s lack of interior defense started to show with L.A. bullying up in the paint in Q3. But it didn’t hurt them as much as it should’ve. The Clips just looked anemic on offense, unable to glean points even from usual bucket-getters like J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford and Mo Speights. Between Smart, Isaiah and Avery Bradley (who looks fully back seeing as he DUNKED ON JORDAN DEANDRE JORDAN DEAD DEANDRE JORDAN DEAD), the Celtics incrementally–if unpleasantly; little of this game’s first three quarters offered pretty moments–built a lead that vacillated near double-figures.
[Interlude: You all, I am tired. This game is the fucking Bataan Death March. I know it has a good chance of sealing the W for Boston, but Jeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesus.
Only the last two minutes of Q3 got interesting. L.A. regained its offensive mojo–in no small part due to Crawford and Speights finding their stroke and Griffin getting away with…some shit–and Boston, as they are wont to do, getting lazy once they hold a lead, particularly on defense. The Celtics were lucky to have done enough damage where the Clippers’ 13-point run only gave them a 4-point lead, but they couldn’t get their own offense back after it began waning at Q3’s end.
Typically, the onus of recovery would fall on Isaiah now. But he couldn’t get himself going, in part due to the Clips’ continuous defensive pressure and trapping, and the team wasn’t backing him up. And as Jordan started to muscle through the hacking for buckets and Raymond fucking Felton (seriously? really?) getting tickytack foul calls, it looked ugly for our heroes–L.A. held a 14-point lead with half a frame left. Tyler Zeller barrel-assing into the NBA’s single greatest 4-point-play guy didn’t help matters; nor did the offense going from sluggish to ice cold.
[Second interlude: It is 1:20 a.m. The game is not over and delusions may soon set in.]
To their credit, the Celtics never stopped even within the two-minute margin, chipping away with transition buckets–some of which came from embarrassing Clips turnovers. But the deficit was too great, and a pair of CP3 free throws iced the L for Boston, 102-116.
As previously stated, the Celtics take their collective foot off the gas when they build leads. It’s a tendency that loses you winnable games and gets you fucking slaughtered in the playoffs. Considering that they did a lot of other things well in this game, the bad shots and inconsistent effort were excruciating.
Courtesy of my Red’s Army compatriot KWAPT, here’s Avery clinically killing DeAndre with a dunk. A major highlight of a crappily ending game.
Obviously some homer bias is in play here, but Isaiah’s shit never feels like stat-stuffing in these contexts–after all, he assisted in the defensive hustle that got him this transition to an off-dribble 3.
Isaiah Thomas: 32 points, 3 rebounds and 5 assists; also one of the only Celtics to score significantly while shooting above 50 percent.
Marcus Smart: Also shot well (exactly 50 percent), with 21 points, 3 boards and 3 dimes. Maybe the haircut is helping. Not in this game, though, sadly.