The Celtics take on Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers in the 4th game of their Western road trip. They will meet again in Boston on February 13. The Celtics are 4-1 vs the West while the Clippers are 3-1 vs the East. The Celtics are 6-2 on the road and 9-1 in their last 10 games. The Clippers are 8-1 at home and 6-4 in their last 10 games.
The Celtics are looking for their 2nd straight win while the Clippers have won their last two and are looking for their third straight win. The Clippers are playing the third game of a 5 game home stand. The Celtics lead the series all time 88-42 and they lead the series 43-25 all time in Los Angeles.
The Clippers are one of the teams favored to win the championship this season. One of the reasons that they are favored is the pairing of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, two of the best two way players in the league. The reason that they are off to a rather slow start is the fact that Leonard and George haven’t played together yet.
Paul George missed the first eleven games as he completed his rehab from off season shoulder surgery. Kawhi Leonard started with load management the third game of their season. He has sat out one game of each of the Clippers 3 back to back sets. George has been back for 3 games and coincidentally, Leonard has missed those 3 games with a knee contusion.
The Clippers are a strange team with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard as the only two regular starters who average double figures. They also have two players who come off the bench who are two of their best players. Montrezl Harrell averages 18.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 blocks. Lou Williams averages 22.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 6.0 assists. Both players come off the bench.
Kawhi has missed the past 3 games with a knee contusion and, according to Adrian Wojnarowski, he will be making his return to the lineup tonight vs the Celtics. He was seen putting up shots at the shoot around today and all indications are that he will play against the Celtics. This will be the first time that Paul George and Kawhi Leonard will be on the floor together.
If Leonard does return, there will be some questions as to how he and Paul George play together. Leonard has been playing small forward but that is where George is playing now. I expect Leonard to slip over to shooting guard. It will be interesting to see how they mesh since they haven’t played together at all and they will need to develop on court chemistry.
Marcus Smart left the game against the Suns on Monday with a sprained ankle. He also has a bone bruise on his hip and a couple of sprained fingers from previous games. He said after the game that he plans to play in this game, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they tell him to sit out a game. He is too important to the team to take chances with. He is listed as probable and could probably be the poster boy for anti-load management. Gordon Hayward is also out with the hand injury.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams III
Gordon Hayward (hand) out
Romeo Langford (G-League/ankle) out
Marcus Smart (hip/ankle/fingers) probable
Two Way Players
Probable Clippers Starters
Derrick Walton, Jr
Landry Shamet (ankle) out
Kawhi Leonard (knee) probable
Jaylen Brown vs Paul George
This will definitely be the key matchup this game, even if Kawhi returns. George is averaging 29.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. He is shooting 56.3% from the field and 52.2% from beyond the arc over the 3 games he has played so far this season. The Celtics need to slow him down and keep him from having another big game.
Marcus Smart vs Kawhi Leonard
Leonard, who missed the past 3 games with a knee contusion, is expected to return to action in this game. Leonard is averaging 26.8 points, 8.9 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 2.1 steals. However, he is also averaging 4.1 turnovers per game and shooting 44% from the field and just 28.6% from beyond the arc. Playing with Paul George, for the first time, may help with those areas though. Hopefully Marcus Smart, who is dealing with assorted aches and pains himself, can slow him down and keep him from getting into a rhythm in this game.
Grant Williams vs Montrezl Harrell
Harrell is another Clipper who comes off the bench to put up big numbers. He is averaging 18.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.2 blocks per game. He is coming off a game on Monday with 28 points and 12 rebounds. He is shooting 60% from the field. The Celtics need to be ready for him and try to slow him down.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense wins games and the Celtics need to play tough team defense if they want to win this game. The Clippers average 112.8 points per game and so the Celtics average 112.6 points per game. The Celtics will need to slow them down with defense and not get into a shoot out with them. The Celtics need to make defense a priority as the Clippers are a good defensive team also and it is likely defense that will win this game.
Energy and Effort - The Celtics have to come out with energy and have to play harder than the Clippers. 100% effort from every Celtic will be needed to get a win in this one. They have to be the more aggressive team and be the team that wants it more. The Celtics let the Kings outwork them and they lost that game. They have been getting their opponents best efforts and they simply must work harder to get a win.
Bench Play - The Clippers reserves are averaging 78.6 points per game, which is an incredible number. This includes 18.9 points from Harrell and 22.1 points from Lou Williams. The Celtics reserves must take this group seriously and play well on both ends of the court and especially on defense. The Celtics bench has been struggling on offense somewhat and the Celtics need them to step up in this game.
Road Fatigue - The Celtics are playing in the fourth game of a 5 game road trip and it is the 4th game in 6 days. The final games are usually the hardest as they look forward to getting back home again and they are tired from traveling and playing games packed into few days. Fatigue could become a factor for the Celtics but hopefully their depth will allow them to have enough in the tank to get the win.
Officiating - I know that I say this every game, but the officiating is always an x-factor in every game. Every crew calls the game differently whether they call every little ticky tack foul or they let a lot of contact go and let the teams play. Some refs favor the home team and some not so much. The Celtics have got to adjust to the way the game is being called.
Coaching - Doc Rivers coached the Celtics for 9 years before leaving to coach the Clippers. Brad Stevens has been coach of the Celtics for the past 6 years. Both are considered to be among the best coaches in the league. This could be a chess match between the current and former coaches of the Celtics.