This time around, Clippers know how to stop Celtics
LOS ANGELES — On Monday morning, Clippers coach Doc Rivers watched film of his team’s Feb. 10 loss to the Celtics. He saw the 273 total points. He saw the baskets pouring in. He didn’t see much defense.
“It was a joke with both teams defensively,” Rivers recalled before Monday’s rematch. “I don’t think you’ll see that tonight.”
Rivers was either prescient or persuasive, as his team then took the floor and held the Celtics to 34.8 percent shooting in an uneventful 114-90 win. It was the Celtics’ third-worst shooting performance this season, and it was a big reason their four-game winning streak was snapped.
Afterward, coach Brad Stevens quipped that he thought his team’s defense was actually a bit better than it was in the February meeting between these two teams, even if that was not saying very much. Still, Los Angeles made 52.4 percent of its attempts and played free and easy.
Yes, there were contested shots that dropped, but there were plenty of open ones that did, too.
“As good as they are, you have to play a perfect game, especially on the road,” Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas said. “You have to make shots and defend them at a high level. We didn’t do that.”
The Celtics preferred to focus on the loss as an opportunity to grow rather than as a setback. Afterward, Avery Bradley told his teammates this it was just one more experience that would help prepare them for the playoffs.
With the loss, the Celtics fell to fifth place in the Eastern Conference, a half-game ahead of the Hornets. In recent weeks, the Celtics, Hornets, Heat, and Hawks have mostly taken turns shoving one another out of the way as they jostle for positioning. But now the Celtics have road games against the Trail Blazers and the unstoppable Warriors looming, so they have to be wary of losing too much ground with only eight games left.
Thomas had 24 points to lead the Celtics. He has led the team in scoring in 13 consecutive games, tying Larry Bird’s franchise record. When this milestone was relayed to Thomas afterward, he was indifferent, saying he is more focused on winning.
The Clippers made six of their first eight 3-pointers. When Jamal Crawford hit two during a 10-0 second-quarter run, Los Angeles suddenly had a 49-33 lead.
The Clippers got a scare with about 2 minutes left in the second quarter, as Paul Pierce drove through the lane for a layup and landed awkwardly on his right leg, causing his right foot to bend under him.
He immediately crumpled to the ground in pain and the Clippers rushed over. Pierce was eventually helped to the bench by teammate Chris Paul and a member of the team’s training staff before being taken to the locker room.
According to the Clippers, he suffered a right ankle sprain and right knee contusion, and there was relief that the diagnosis was not something more severe.
“He is going to be out for a little bit,” Rivers said. “We don’t know how long, but it’s just one of those things. . . . For a second there, when he went down and grabbed his knee I thought, ‘Oh, boy.’ And then I started to think, ‘And it’s against the Celtics.’ But it didn’t happen, so that’s good.”
The Clippers shot 58.5 percent from the field in the first half while the Celtics made just 37 percent of their attempts, and Los Angeles took a 67-50 lead into the break.
The Celtics lingered for much of the third quarter, slicing an 18-point deficit to 79-68 on free throws by Jonas Jerebko with 3:23 left. But Los Angeles closed the period with a 13-2 run, as two more high-arcing 3-pointers by Crawford made it 92-70 at the start of the final quarter. The lead swelled to 25 points, and starters from both teams went to the bench soon after.
“Anytime we got close, we didn’t play with any composure to get back over the hump,” Stevens said. “I think part of that has to do with being competitive and trying to hit home runs all the time when you’re trying to mount a comeback, but we’ve got to do a better job in those situations than we did tonight.”
“They did what we should have been doing,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart said. “They moved the ball on us. They had us scrambling everywhere, and they just kind of brought the fight to us.”