By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
Despite a 16-point first-half deficit and playing without their two most tenacious defenders, the Celtics found a way to come from behind and beat the Clippers Friday night, 119-115. It was yet another nail-biter between the C’s and Clips – both games in last season’s series went to overtime. This time things got solved in regulation, but the game featured seven lead changes, with four of those coming in the fourth quarter.
Going in, the Celtics knew they would be without Marcus Smart who is still recovering from a calf injury suffered last week. But earlier Friday afternoon, Jaylen Brown was also ruled out with knee soreness, leaving the Celtics without their two best perimeter defenders against one of the NBA’s best offensive teams.
The game opened with a quick foul on Daniel Theis, which sparked an early technical from Brad Stevens. That led to the Clippers jumping out to a 15-7 lead at the first break, which came after Jayson Tatum knocked down a three and scored the Celtics’ first points in over three minutes.
Boston would get as close as six, but the Clippers’ early dominance on the board (16 to 5 in the first quarter) proved to be too much. L.A. led 33-21 after 12 minutes.
Carsen Edwards got hot early in the second quarter, knocking down three three-pointers in a row. However, he didn’t have much help from the rest of the roster, and the Celtics were only to trim the deficit by a single point, down 62-51.
Midway through the third quarter, the Celtics used a 13-2 run to take the lead on a Grant Williams three pointer. Boston ended up nearly doubling up L.A. in the quarter, outscoring them 38-20 in the frame. Where the defensive intensity was noticeably lacking without Smart and Brown in the first half, the Celtics were much more aggressive coming out of the locker room, which helped them build a lead. Heading into the fourth, the C’s held an 89-82 advantage.
The Clippers chipped away slowly at the Celtics lead early in the fourth quarter, before a Marcus Morris three tied things up at 102 with five minutes to play. That led to a temporary small L.A. lead, before Boston took the lead back at the three minute mark, when Edwards was fouled shooting a three.
After the Celtics were called for a 24 second violation, Lou Williams hit a three pointer with 46 seconds remaining to regain the Clippers’ lead 112-111. Tatum turned the ball over on the ensuing possession, but quickly stole the ball back from Kawhi Leonard. That set up a Kemba Walker jumper – a similar look to the one he missed at the end of the Lakers game – that put the C’s back up 113-112.
Leonard missed his shot on the other end, and Tristan Thompson hit both his free throws after being fouled on the rebound. The Clippers had yet another miss, and this time it was Grant Williams getting the rebound, getting fouled, and hitting both shots from the line.
That wasn’t quite the game though. Lou Williams hit one more three pointer to make it 117-115 Celtics with eight seconds left. After Walker was fouled and hit both his free throws, the Clippers had one last miss to end the game.
Tatum scored a game-high 34 points, including 19 in the second half. He turned in a strong defensive effort as well with four steals. Walker looked strong after missing the C’s last game, he scored 24. Edwards added 16 points off the bench, playing a career-high 30 minutes.
For the Clippers, Leonard led the way with 28 points on 8-for-19 shooting. He was 0-for-5 from deep, but made up for it by getting to the line constantly and hitting 12 of his 14 free throws,
The win puts the Celtics at 12-9 on the season. They’re back in action on Sunday before the Super Bowl with a 2:00 p.m. tip against the Suns. You can catch that one on 98.5 The SportsHub, with pregame coverage beginning at 1:30 p.m..
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com