By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Like Professor Hulk’s first dip into the waters of time travel, I’m seeing Wednesday’s head-to-head between the Celtics and Clippers as an absolute win for the Celtics.
I mean, how could you not? For almost the full 53 minutes, the Celtics proved capable of hanging with a team many project to be the favorites for the 2020 NBA championship.
Yes, these too young, too small Celtics.
Drawing the short straw as the first team to face the Kawhi Leonard and Paul George tandem this season, the Celtics seemed primed to get their doors blown off. Just one look at Leonard’s and George’s stats solo — along the rest of the Clippers’ versatile threats — and you entered this one just hoping that the Celtics could give the Clippers a game and keep it close through the half or three quarters. Hey, if it was a two-score game in the fourth quarter, you’d take it.
This was when the reality of what the Celtics lost with the offseason departures of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford was supposed to hit and rear its head: when matched up against legitimate superteams and superstars, how could the Celtics ever keep up?
Just fine, it turned out.
Despite missing their first 16 attempts from three-point range, the Celtics entered the half with a two-point edge, and grew it to a healthy six-point edge through three quarters of play. They did this while missing their first 16 (16!) three-point attempts.
But the battle level was there throughout this mismatched head-to-head.
In fact, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum seemed to embrace the challenge of their highly-difficult matchups. Tatum especially, as he dropped a game-tying three right in front of George and his shattered ankles on the C’s final possession of regulation.
Another absolute win.
Jayson Tatum just made Paul George his son. pic.twitter.com/dvPRJgHGqI— Taylor Snow (@taylorcsnow) November 21, 2019
“This is the opportunity you look for, especially bright lights, big stage,” Tatum said after Wednesday’s game. “You don’t want to back down. You want to compete and show them you belong and just earn their respect.”
Tatum seized the opportunity, too, throwing it back to the 2018 postseason as he finished the night with a team-leading 30 points behind a 12-for-24 night from the floor (Tatum also finished with makes on five of his 10 heaves from deep).
And even though the too-amped-for-their-own-good Celts wasted countless possessions in overtime, they were still a mere Kemba Walker three (blocked by Leonard’s monstrous reach) away from sending this contest to a second overtime.
This was an important lesson. And again, it was a win for the Celtics.
And I can’t help but circle back to that start: Misses on 16 straight three’s to begin the night, and just one make on 18 through 24 minutes. That is, like, hilariously bad, and something that seems incredibly unlikely to happen again should these teams meet. And even after finishing with makes on just 12 of 45 tries from deep, the Celtics still sit in the top half of the league in three-point percentage. So, the math right there tells you how unlikely this is to repeat or hold up over a seven-game series.
There’s also the iffy fouls that created a five-point swing. While the Celtics worked out of it and forced overtime, there’s no denying the impact these calls had on sending this game to the extra frame. Had it not been for that, perhaps we’re talking about the best win of the C’s young season. Strike that, we most definitely are talking about their best win.
Perhaps most importantly, the Celtics hung with the Clips through all of this without having Gordon Hayward, their best player (at least if we’re going off what we’ve seen out of the gate), at their disposal.
If only we had a way to see how this series would go over the course of seven games and with a healthy Hayward.
Here’s some other thoughts and notes from an overtime thriller in Hollywood…
A classic Marcus Smart game
We got the full Marcus Smart experience on Wednesday night.
In what finished as a 15-point night from the C’s heartbeat, Smart had countless makes where you straight-up couldn’t believe the shot went down, and more than a handful of empty and wasted possessions on low-percentage looks that left you shaking your head. He saved a ton of the latter for the overtime quarter, too, which only accelerated the Green’s troubles against a more potent offensive Clipper attack.
But when push came to shove, it was Smart who forced a Leonard turnover (a Leonard turnover!) to give the Celtics the ball back and with the chance to push this contest to a second overtime.
Look at this defensive play by Marcus Smart, absurd. pic.twitter.com/xplgN9DiHH— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) November 21, 2019
This is what Smart does (unapologetically) and most nights you just have to hope the good outweighs the bad.
Patrick Beverley is definitely not a fan of Marcus Smart comparisons
Patrick Beverley does not want to hear you compare him to Marcus Smart. Not at all, actually.
Reporter - “What’s it like being out there with Marcus Smart, a guy trying to out-intense you?”— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) November 21, 2019
Patrick Beverley - “...”
Reporter - “You don’t usually have another guy out there that matches your intensity.”
Pat Bev - “...That’s funny”#Clippers #Celtics pic.twitter.com/GxrQWb0gjJ
It’s hard to knock Beverley’s swagger given the way he performed in the victory, as he finished with a juiced box score featuring 14 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists, three steals, two blocks, and a team-best plus-17. He was all over the place.
Beverley is going to be a playoff nightmare for somebody in April, May, and probably June.
Kemba Walker couldn’t buy a call
This was a rough night for Kemba. Handed a technical in the first half, Walker was downright bullied in the second half, and couldn’t do anything other than smile (unless he wanted to flirt with getting tossed from this excellent contest). The low point for Walker in this one came when he was just straight-up barreled over outside of the restricted area and whistled for a blocking foul. It was enough to get Brad Stevens hot enough to curse out the officials on the way to a tech of his own.
The C’s will close out their west coast road trip on Friday night against the Nuggets.