In the “battle of the best wing duos,” the Celtics emerged victorious with a six-point win in a game that was competitive from start to finish. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown each scored 29, Marcus Smart finished with 17 points and 9 assists, but Derrick White was the unsung hero, finishing with 15 points on 6/8 shooting and getting a clutch block in the final minute to seal the 116-110 victory.
The Clippers won by 20 when these teams met two weeks ago in Los Angeles. With Kawhi Leonard’s injuries, they hadn’t lived up to their preseason championship expectations and started the season 14-13. But entering tonight’s game they’d won seven of their last nine, posting a record of 11-3 with Kawhi in the lineup. This was just the fourth time all season they had a fully healthy lineup. Boston was without head coach Joe Mazzulla for the second straight game and Malcolm Brogdon was out with a non-covid related illness.
The Celtics opened the game shooting 1/7 but Smart sparked the turnaround. I could clip any number of plays, but the most impressive was this block on 7-footer Ivica Zubac that led to a Derrick White transition finish:
Big block by Marcus ⏩ D-white finish! pic.twitter.com/vKEx75taNz— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) December 30, 2022
The Celtics jumped out to a 24-15 lead after scoring 14 first-quarter points in the paint, but the Clippers clawed back (pun intended) with Kawhi and John Wall hitting back-to-back threes. Norman Powell nailed a contested fadeaway three at the buzzer, and the Celtics led 27-26 after one quarter.
The teams traded baskets to open the second, but they later showed why they’re each top-10 in defensive efficiency, as nobody could buy a bucket for a five-minute stretch. Jaylen found a seam and threw down a fastbreak dunk then hit a double-clutch elbow jumper to give Boston a 50-37 lead with 3:14 remaining. Tatum, Brown, Leonard, and George each took turns getting to the rim, then a Robert Williams buzzer-beating layup made the score 60-49 at halftime.
The Celtics only shot 5/20 from three but hit a sizzling 19/29 of their two-point attempts. Tatum scored 20, Brown added 15, Smart had 7 points and 6 assists, while Timelord had 6 points and 4 offensive rebounds. Kawhi and Powell led the Clippers with 15 and 12 respectively.
Los Angeles opened the second half on an 11-3 run, then a Marcus Morris three cut Boston’s lead to 67-65 at the 8:14 mark. A few minutes later, George drilled a three to give the Clippers a lead, but Smart responded with a deep ball of his own. With 4:50 left in the quarter, Grant Williams sacrificed his body and snatched a loose ball, then Sam Hauser finished the play by splashing an open transition three:
THE EFFORT NEVER STOPS! pic.twitter.com/c0116Z5GqD— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) December 30, 2022
In the final minute of the quarter, Timelord made an athletic steal on a cross court pass, and the Celtics could have taken a lead with a fastbreak bucket, but instead he turned it over trying to handle the ball, and the Clippers led 85-84 at the end of three. It was shaping up to be a legendary fourth quarter.
With Tatum and Kawhi sitting to open the final period, Brown and George took turns initiating offense, and the game stayed within one possession. At the 8:38 mark, White drove in for a floater — a shot he’s mastered — to give Boston a 98-92 lead.
Tatum and Kawhi checked in at 7:01, then a few possessions later, Jaylen got called for a charge, prompting Damon Stoudamire to wave the challenge finger. The refs took a long time to review the play, but stuck with the call on the floor, as Jaylen picked up his 5th foul with 5:32 remaining and the Celtics leading by 5.
With Ty Lue opting to double Tatum every time he touched the ball, it opened up driving lanes for White, who first hit a 10-foot floater over Kawhi, then drove-and-dished to an open Grant for a three pointer that gave Boston a 110-102 lead. They took a 10-point lead with 3:36 remaining on a Smart steal and transition dunk, but the Clippers proceeded to go on an 8-1 run, taking advantage of some sloppiness and complacency on Boston’s part.
George found an open driving lane that could have cut the lead to one, but Derrick White had an outstanding weakside block. Then Horford had a similarly impressive block on Morris, and the Celtics held on for a 116-110 win.
This is the last time these teams are scheduled to play, but maybe, just maybe, they’ll be playing later this spring. The Celtics open 2023 by traveling to Denver to take on Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets this Sunday at 8:00 pm EST.