Boston, Massachusetts — The new-look Los Angeles Clippers (30-26) went into the TD Garden and defeated the Boston Celtics (40-19) by a final score of 129-119. Boston gave up a season-high in points, marking tonight as the second consecutive game where they have surrendered at least 120.
Los Angeles was easily able to break down Boston’s defense with dribble penetration, and DeAndre Jordan became the primary beneficiary. The Clipper guards consistently blew past their initial defenders which compelled the Celtic bigs to help on the drive. It resulted in Jordan comfortably parking himself under the rim for a variety of easy lob dunks and put backs. Milos Teodosic, Austin Rivers, and Lou Williams also utilized Jordan to unravel the pick-and-roll and dribble handoff coverage.
Jordan showcased his unique blend of athleticism and power tonight, controlling the painted area against whichever defender that the Celtics threw at him. The 9-year veteran shot 11-of-14 and finished with a career-high 30 points, and added 13 rebounds, and 4 steals. He even knocked down 8-of-9 free throws, essentially silencing Brad Stevens’ “hack-a-DeAndre” strategy.
Newcomer Tobias Harris had 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting in 39 minutes. Danilo Gallinari added 20 points and 9 rebounds. He was limited to 4-for-11 shooting on the night, but went 10-for-10 from the free throw line.
Williams, a popular trade candidate last week who ended up signing a 3-year extension instead, struggled from the field for most of the night. Sweet Lou got off to a slow start, shooting 1-for-8 through three quarters. It was a different story in the final frame. Williams, who leads the league in fourth quarter scoring, scored 14 of his 19 total points in the final 12 game minutes. The All-Star snub had a critical three-pointer and running layup which pushed Los Angeles back into the lead midway through the fourth quarter.
After being traded from Detroit as a part of the Blake Griffin-deal, ex-Celtic Avery Bradley is now reunited with Doc Rivers, who coached him during his first three seasons in Boston. The pesky shooting guard returned to the TD Garden and drew the tough task of defending Kyrie Irving. Bradley finished with 10 points, but a -13 differential.
The Celtics were fighting an uphill battle for most of the night, and while they were able to gain the lead in the fourth quarter, the demeanor of the contest never suggested that Boston was in control. Los Angeles unquestionably dictated the tempo for 48 minutes.
Kyrie Irving paced the Celtics with 33 points and 8 assists, but his -14 differential was the second-lowest on the team. Overall, the Clipper point guard rotation lacks defensive grit without Patrick Beverley, but they carry an abundance of offensive talent, which forced Irving to work harder. He struggled to stick with Teodosic and Rivers, each of whom chipped in 10 points and 4 dimes a piece.
Al Horford had 20 points and 3 blocks on 8-of-17 shooting, but handed out no assists. This was the first game of his Celtics career in which he failed to record an assist. From the opening tip, Boston’s game plan was to feed Horford against the Clippers’ power forwards. Brad Stevens clearly believed that his savvy veteran big man could find his shot against Gallinari and Montrezl Harrell, but the decision to change Horford’s usage effectively removed him from his typical facilitation-style.
Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum combined to shoot an ugly 8-for-25. At this point, the dog days of the NBA season may be hitting them the worst of anyone. Neither have previously toted a workload like this in their lives, and it’s clear that mental fatigue is setting in. Having a week off to recharge their batteries will be critical, and their adjustments to various defensive schemes over the final 23 games of the regular season is a story that warrants attention.
Terry Rozier, whose recent play is one of the few positives surrounding the team, posted another efficient game, chipping in 13 points and 7 assists in 29 minutes. In the 11 games since Marcus Smart was injured, Rozier has averaged 15 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 4.5 APG over 30 MPG.
The Celtics’ three-man weave of Greg Monroe, Aron Baynes, and Daniel Theis resulted in none of them getting over 15 minutes. Monroe continues to see limited playing time, and finished with 8 points, 5 rebounds, and and -5 differential. In his four games with Boston, the backup big man has watched his minutes count fall from 20 against Washington, to 11 in the previous two games, to just 10 tonight. The DNP-CD’s that Monroe racked up in Phoenix caused him to lose his wind. The Celtics hope that he can display more quickness after the extended layoff.
The Celtics had a mini-break during their January trip to London, a period in which they played only one game in nine days. At that time, Boston was riding a six-game winning streak, and it felt like the extra rest took the wind out of their sails.
In contrast, right now seems like the ideal time for the Celtics to have time off. Boston enters the All-Star break having lost 4 of their last 5 games. They also own the 26th ranked offense over the past month. The top seed has been squandered away, at least for now. They’re playing without Smart and Shane Larkin’s quarterbacking skills. They’re holding onto the 2nd place spot in the Eastern Conference, but the rejuvenated Cleveland Cavaliers look like a different team and are quickly closing in.
On a brighter note, Boston will be heavily represented during this weekend’s NBA All-Star festivities. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum will compete for Team U.S.A. in this Saturday’s Rising Stars game, while Al Horford and Kyrie Irving will play in Sunday’s All-Star game.
The C’s will resume their regular season schedule on February 23 against the Detroit Pistons.