Boston Celtics: 2013Game28
After his team endured a 106-77 whooping at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night, Rivers cracked that he was going to take up another collection to hide in the Staples Center walls -- the insinuation being that the Clippers, winners of 15 straight, are playing championship-caliber basketball. And the Celtics? Well, they clearly need some form of motivation to improve their current brand of woefully inconsistent play.
"I mean, geez, [the Clippers] were unbelievable," Rivers said.
He had every reason to be infuriated with his team's lackluster play, but instead of unloading on his players' effort, Rivers playfully opened with the hiding-the-money joke on Thursday night. Asked later if he was upset with his team, Rivers actually tried to take some of the sting out of a lopsided loss.
"No, no, no, no. [The Clippers are] playing well and we played horrible -- it's a perfect storm," Rivers told reporters in Los Angeles. "You hate those, you don't have a lot of those, but we had one of those tonight."
But the Celtics have had an awful lot of "those nights" lately. They might not all be 30-point drubbings, but Boston has rarely been able to string together consecutive solid efforts and their record reflects that.
Coming off one of their finest efforts of the season, you want to give the Celtics the benefit of the doubt. But the pattern so far this season suggests that this is the way it's going to be. They dipped back to .500 (14-14) with Thursday's loss and, as good as they looked on the Christmas Day stage in Brooklyn, the Celtics were completely disheveled in Hollywood's backyard.
THE NITTY GRITTY
If you elected for sleep on Thursday night, you made the right decision. Coming off one of their finest efforts of the season on Christmas Day in Brooklyn, the Celtics were absolutely dominated by the Clippers. Matt Barnes scored a game-high 21 points over 23 minutes and Jamal Crawford added 17 points, both coming off the bench for Los Angeles. Blake Griffin registered 15 points and eight rebounds, and Caron Butler chipped in 14 points for a Clippers team that shot 48.2 percent from the field. Kevin Garnett scored a team-high 16 points, but even he was a minus-13 in plus/minus on this night. Paul Pierce registered 12 points, but he was a team-worst minus-27 overall. Rajon Rondo blended into the scenery with 10 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds and 4 turnovers. Boston shot a mere 40.3 percent and turned the ball over 18 times (leading to 26 points).
The Clippers embarked on a 16-2 run early in the first quarter, opening an 18-4 lead before the TNT broadcast had even switched over from the Oklahoma City Thunder's overtime win against the Dallas Mavericks. Willie Green and DeAndre Jordan paired up for 10 points during the burst as the Clippers were 7-of-9 shooting (77.8 percent), while Boston missed six of seven shots. The Celtics trimmed the deficit to four with a little burst early in the second quarter, but Los Angeles responded with a lightning-quick 8-0 run over a 68-second span that pushed the lead back to double digits. Boston never got closer than eight the rest of the way.
SULLY GETS A FLAGRANT
Celtics rookie Jared Sullinger was tagged with a flagrant-1 for essentially preventing himself from becoming part of a Griffin poster in the third quarter. Griffin attacked on the baseline with 4:49 remaining in the period when Sullinger, avoiding the wrong end of a "SportsCenter" highlight, lunged at Griffin and fouled him hard around the neck to prevent a dunk.
WHAT IT MEANS
Welp, the Celtics can take solace in the fact that about half the league's teams have tasted defeat at the hands of the Clippers over the past month (Los Angeles has won its past 15 games against 14 different teams since Nov. 28). On the other hand, Boston was coming off one of its finest efforts of the season and this was a chance to gauge itself against the best team in basketball. The Celtics failed that test, trailing by as many as 32 points. Boston must dust itself off before visiting Golden State on Saturday. The Celtics then close out this four-game road trip in Sacramento on Sunday.
* RONDO VS. CP3: The Rajon Rondo-Chris Paul rivalry has always had a little extra pizzazz to it. Then last November, rumors swirled that the Celtics were interested in swapping the guards. Paul ultimately landed with the Clippers, helping to facilitate their ascension to legitimate contender. The two players met only once last year in Los Angeles as Rondo's 12 points and 10 assists helped Boston emerge with a win in a chippy game. Thursday could feature more of the same as the Celtics will be looking to end the Clippers' 14-game winning streak in a national TV battle. Which is to say that Rondo shouldn't lack for motivation.
* SYNERGY SNAPSHOT: The from-afar perception of the Clippers is a high-octane, highlight-heavy offense spearheading their success. Yes, Los Angeles ranks fifth in the league averaging an efficient 0.969 points per play, but the team plays at a league-average pace and ranks ninth in points per game. The secret masked by all those Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan flashbulb finishes is that the Clippers rank third in the NBA by allowing a mere 0.87 points per play, according to Synergy data (and they hop to No. 2 in the league in the half-court set). Griffin's defensive numbers are off the charts (0.646 points per play, 97th percentile) and the Clippers as a team rank 12th or better against all six of their opponent's top play types. Opponents average a mere 91.9 points per game and that is actually the biggest reason for the team's current streak (only twice have opponents reached triple figures in that 14-game stretch).
* MATCHING UP IN FRONTCOURT: The Celtics have gone big lately with Jason Collins and Kevin Garnett comprising the starting frontcourt, but Los Angeles' athleticism will challenge Boston's bigs. The Celtics will need undersized forwards like Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger to get by with their energy and grit while trying to match up against a frontcourt that isn't just big, but can jump out of the gym. The Celtics got physical the last time these two teams met and might need to play with a similar edge again on Thursday.
* KEEP IT GOING: The Celtics were brilliant on Christmas Day in Brooklyn, which means you should have no idea what team will emerge on Thursday night. A Boston team that speaks often about putting together a sustained winning streak hasn't put together a sustained winning streak this season. Each quality win is met with a fresh dose of optimism, only to be dashed soon after. The Celtics have a tough task given how well the Clippers are playing and, unfortunately for Boston, the bottom line is all that really matters, so there's added pressure to simply emerge with the victory.
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