Before tip-off, interim interim head coach Damon Stoudamire described the Clippers as a “90’s team — they’re really methodical, they’re not trying to fool you on either end of the floor. If a player is scoring, they’re going to hit you with a double team.”
After Jayson Tatum scored nearly a point a minute through the first 15, Los Angeles got methodical and started showing him two defenders.
The first thing to note is how flat the Celtics make the Clippers defense with Derrick White cutting through and eliminating one of LA’s best defenders, Terance Mann. It leaves Tatum all alone against his former Duke teammate, Luke Kennard, and a ton of space for Tatum to play with. Norman Powell almost immediately doubles to get the ball out of his hands and then now, it’s just a game of tic-tac-toe. Tic: JT swings it stage left where two shooters, Grant Williams and now White are situated. Tac: Williams engages Paul George and finds White all alone in the corner. Toe: White calmly hits the three where he’s shooting 46% for the year.
Late in the third, the Clippers pick up Tatum even higher up in the half court. He back pedals to draw them even further from the ensuing 4-on-3 drill and then it’s just child’s play. Tatum finds Sam Hauser who Kenard has to respect from behind the arc, Robert Williams rolls to the rim to engage John Wall, and again, White is wide open for a 3.
LET 'EM KNOW DERRICK! #BleedGreen pic.twitter.com/f3yWMXAMIu— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) December 30, 2022
The final example is the piece de resistance of the evening. Tatum again draws two Clippers and to their credit, they’re better spaced with their coverage and Boston isn’t. Kawhi Leonard can somewhat cover two players here: White above the break and Marcus Smart in the corner because Tatum can’t make that pass. Admittedly, White’s drive is more about White than it is Tatum making the right play out of the double team, but it still illustrates how a defense can bend too much so there are mismatches all over the floor for the Celtics to take advantage of.
By the time White has the ball, he’s covered by Kawhi, Reggie Jackson is on Grant Williams in the corner, Marcus Morris is on Tatum, Powell is trying to size up Robert Williams, and Paul George is on Marcus Smart. It was just a matter of time before Boston found a mismatch of size, speed, or strength to take advantage of.
So, yes, the Clippers are a methodical team that are deliberate with their coverages, but so are the Celtics with the counter punch.