After being crushed by the Clippers, it’s time for Celtics to come home
LOS ANGELES — As Kyrie Irving stood up from a chair and headed to the showers after the Celtics’ 140-115 loss to the Clippers on Monday, the locker room was mostly empty. But Irving smiled and had a message for whoever else was around to listen.
“We’ve got to get out of here,” he said. He was not referring to the locker room; he was referring to Los Angeles, where the Celtics have been stationed for five nights during this lengthy four-game road trip.
He reiterated the point a few minutes later as he stood in front of a cluster of reporters.
“No disrespect to any LA natives,” he said. “I love being out here, but yeah, we need to get out of here.”
The Celtics were ready to get back to their time zone, back to their homecourt, and back to their own beds. But they are leaving feeling much more at ease than they were when they arrived.
They began this trip in a bad place. They’d won just 1 of 6 games after the All-Star break, igniting questions about whether they could steady their season before it was too late. And although Monday’s loss was a minor setback, the general mood remained upbeat afterward.
They went 3-1 in California and seemed to be a bit galvanized along the way. Their defense Monday is not acceptable, and they are aware of that. But they still feel that their outlook is better than it was when they left Boston last week.
“We stayed together through ups and downs,” Al Horford said. “Obviously tonight didn’t go how we wanted, but I feel like we really played with purpose and we want to continue playing that same way now that we’re going back home.”
This loss to the Clippers was a missed opportunity to close within a half-game of the 76ers and Pacers, who are tied for third place in the East. With 14 games left, Boston now trails both teams by one and a half games, including two in the loss column. But there will not be a colossal difference between those three slots, anyway.
The good news for the Celtics is that as they look to gain some momentum heading into the postseason, they will not have to face these pesky Clippers again. When these teams met in Boston just over one month ago, the Clippers stormed back from a 28-point deficit before grabbing a comfortable 11-point win. The only major difference in Monday’s rematch was that this comfortable win required no comeback.
Los Angeles took a 3-2 lead just 51 seconds into the game and never relinquished it. The Clippers shot 61.6 percent from the field — a season-high for a Celtics opponent — and 46.4 percent from the 3-point line. They scored at least 37 points in each of the last three quarters and led by as many as 30 points in the game.
Lou Williams, who set an NBA record Monday for career bench points, finished with 34 on 14 of 21 shooting. Danilo Gallinari set the tone with a 13-point first quarter and finished with 25.
“I thought we let the ball go wherever it wanted to,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said, “and then when they can play you on a string like that, you have no chance.”
Stevens tried to make mid-game alterations to slow the Clippers’ relentless attack, but nothing seemed to make a difference. He unveiled a zone defense on three possessions, and all three ended with offensive rebounds by Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell.
“We couldn’t get stops,” Stevens said. “We talked about trying to guard different ways. We probably should have just said, ‘Let’s do better what we do.’”
The Clippers constantly found wide open looks around the 3-point line and made 13 of 28. Celtics guard Marcus Smart said it was a communication issue.
“That would solve everything,” he said. “We stopped rotating and helping each other out because we thought someone else had it. We just have to clean those things up, communicate and everything will fall into place for us.”
Smart sat at his locker as he finished this thought, and Horford overheard his answer from the next stall.
“Preach,” Horford said, nodding.
Celtics forward Jayson Tatum missed the game with a sore right shoulder and his replacement in the starting lineup, Jaylen Brown, had 22 points and 7 rebounds, providing further evidence that it might be time for him to step in for the scuffling Marcus Morris. Terry Rozier added 26 points off the bench, although 13 came in the fourth quarter, with the game’s outcome all but decided.
After the Celtics sliced a 12-point deficit to 46-42 behind some darting, efficient play by Irving, the Clippers answered with a 9-0 burst that included two dunks by Ivica Zubac and ultimately took a 62-49 lead to halftime. Los Angeles made 72.2 percent of its shots in the second quarter.
Brown, who has struggled with his 3-point shooting throughout this season, drilled three of them during a stretch of just 1 minute, 23 seconds midway through the third quarter. But this torrid segment was not accompanied by stops at the other end of the court, as Los Angeles continued to pick Boston apart with laughably open 3-pointers.
After Gallinari made one, Landry Shamet hit two more from the corners before Patrick Beverley drained one that gave the Clippers their largest lead at the time, 99-80. Then Williams seized control at the start of the fourth, scoring 13 points over the first four minutes to put the Celtics away.
“Defensively, we can’t allow 140 points,” Horford said. “That’s not how we play.”