10:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Clippers -6.5, Over/Under: 220
A potential NBA Finals preview is on tap tonight in the City of Angels, as the Boston Celtics continue their western road trip against the Los Angeles Clippers, who return home from their own cross-country venture, from STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. Arguably the longest standing protagonist in the East, the Celtics (11-9, 4th in Eastern Conference) suddenly find themselves in a position where their competition seems to be passing them by, as they have now dropped six of their last nine contests en route to sitting just two game above .500. So what the hell has happened to Boston of late, you ask? Well, they were just one of many teams to see a number of games postponed due to the league’s COVID-19 Health/Safety Protocols, with some of their own players also held out of action due to contact tracing. Furthermore, (All-Star Point Guard) Kemba Walker (15.0 PTS, 36.6% FG, 30.0% 3FG, 3.7 REB, 4.3 AST, 1.4 STL, 15.9 PER) missed the first eleven games of the campaign following offseason knee surgery, while (veteran Guard) Marcus Smart (13.1 PTS, 39.4% FG, 31.1% 3FG, 2.8 REB, 6.1 AST, 1.8 STL, 0.5 BLK, 14.7 PER) will miss 2-3 weeks with a calf strain suffered last weekend. When you consider that this is a team that also lost (swingman) Gordon Hayward in Free Agency, and the rotation at Brad Stevens’ disposal has been dramatically altered, and not for the better. Over the past few years, the Celtics have prided themselves on their interchangeability defensively, but this sudden lack of depth has kept them from being able to switch with ease on this end of the hardwood. Over the last nine games, Boston has allowed 108.8 points on 47.4% shooting from the field, including 36.1% from beyond the arc, with 23.6 assists in comparison to 14.8 turnovers, while owning a slim rebounding advantage of Plus-1.2. They clearly miss Smart, who is by far and away their most tenacious defender on the perimeter, along with his energy off the ball which cannot be quantified statistically. As Walker continues to work himself back into game shape (he was rested in Wednesday’s affair in Sacramento), the bulk of the offense has been laid on the shoulders of their young stars, Jayson Tatum (26.8 PTS, 47.8% FG, 41.1% 3FG, 7.3 REB, 4.1 AST, 1.2 STL, 0.6 BLK, 22.1 PER) and Jaylen Brown (26.4 PTS, 51.8% FG, 42.4% 3FG, 5.5 REB, 3.6 AST, 1.3 STL, 0.7 BLK, 24.3 PER). Few teams have been better than the Celtics in terms of drafting and developing players, with a whopping THIRTEEN homegrown players on their roster, and Tatum and Brown have been the fruits of their labor. Indeed these two have come a long way in a relatively short time; (General Manager) Danny Ainge drafted them each Third Overall in successive Drafts (2016 and 2017), and during the time that has passed have thus developed into bonafide stars, combining for 53.2 points per game along with 12.8 rebounds, 7.7 assists, and 2.5 steals. It’s really been remarkable to watch their growth, as they have made the club’s previous splashes in Free Agency (I.E. Kyrie Irving and the aforementioned Hayward) expendable, with even a four-time All-Star such as Walker taking a backseat to his younger teammates. Brown in particular has been on FIRE throughout the first month of the campaign, with the 24-year old looking like a lock for his first All-Star selection, logging career-highs in a slew of categories including points (26.4), field goal percentage (51.8%), three-point percentage (42.4%), two-point percentage (55.8%), free-throw percentage (76.3%), assists (3.6), and steals (1.3). Over the last seven games the hoop must appear to be as wide as the ocean for this kid, who has netted 51.7% of his attempts from the field, including 48.6%% from downtown en route to scoring 27.4 points per game over that stretch.
“We’ve been pretty good on back-to-backs all year. We were short on bodies, but still a game we could have won.”Jaylen Brown lamenting the shorthanded Celtics performance in Wednesday’s 116-111 at the Kings
When we last saw the Celtics, they lost their third game in four outings with it becoming painfully evident that their mounting injuries are taking a toll in Wednesday night’s 116-111 loss at the Sacramento Kings. As we stated earlier, Boston was already without Smart, who continues to nurse that strained left calf, while Walker sat out the affair after logging a season-high thirty-one minutes in his team’s 111-107 victory over the Warriors the night before. (Rookie Point Guard) Payton Pritchard (7.7 PTS, 48.8% FG, 42.5% 3FG, 2.4 REB, 2.6 AST, 0.9 STL, 12.7 PER) was also on the bench, missing his sixth straight game with a sprained right MCL. Even with all the injuries, Stevens will no doubt be lamenting this defeat for this was one that was well within his troops’ grasp. Tatum tied the score via a three-pointer with 2:26 left on to play, but the Kings’ De’Aaron Fox would not be denied, scoring a total of thirteen points in the final period, as the hosts allowed just a pair of baskets the rest of the way. Following a 19-4 run in the Third Quarter to get back into the game, a three-point play courtesy of Tatum cut the deficit to 112-111, but Fox would drain a step-back midrange jumper with 58.8 seconds on the clock, and then after a pair of free-throws for the home side, Tatum’s heave desperation heave fell to the hardwood. In the end, the visitors shot 45.3% from the field, including 11-of-33 from beyond the arc (33.3%), and 22-of-29 from the free-throw line (75.9%), with twenty-eight assists in comparison to just thirteen turnovers, not bad when you consider that they were without three ballhandlers. Tatum led the way with twenty-seven points on 11-of-26 shooting (42.3%), though missed all but two of his ten attempts from downtown (20.0%), nearly missing a triple-double with nine rebounds and ten assists. Brown finished with twenty-one points on a poor 7-of-18 shooting (38.9%), while (veteran Center) Tristan Thompson (6.9 PTS, 50.5% FG, 8.4 REB, 0.7 AST, 0.5 BLK, 12.8 PER) impressed with seventeen points and ten rebounds. Defensively, they allowed Sacramento to shoot 45.7% overall and 13-of-37 from three (35.1%), managing to force just ten turnovers. With little time to dwell on this defeat, Boston will hope to have Walker back in the fold for tonight’s meeting with the Clippers, who in two meetings last season needed a total of three overtimes to crown victors. When they first met in Los Angeles on November 20th, the visitors met narrow defeat in a 107-104 thriller, with rematch taking place in Beantown and needing a pair of extra periods before the hosts outscored them 14-6 in the final stanza, as Tatum dropped thirty-nine points on 14-of-23 shooting (60.9%) and Smart added thirty-one points on 10-of-20 shooting from the field (50.0%).
Meanwhile, as their opponent tonight has had to deal with the disruption caused by COVID-19 along with mounting injuries, the only thing that the Clippers (17-6, 2nd in Western Conference) continue to battle is their own demons. Los Angeles came into the previous campaign as the talk of the NBA following their acquisition of (All-NBA Swingmen) Kawhi Leonard (26.2 PTS, 51.3% FG, 40.4% 3FG, 5.3 REB, 5.3 AST, 1.9 STL, 0.7 BLK, 28.4 PER) and Paul George (24.4 PTS, 50.8% FG, 47.8% 3FG, 6.2 REB, 5.5 AST, 1.2 STL, 0.5 BLK, 23.5 PER), immediately vaulting to favorite status for the Larry O’Brien trophy. However, after a solid performance during a Regular Season that was paused for four months due to the coronavirus pandemic, their postseason run came to a premature end in crushing fashion, as they blew (what was thought to be) a commanding 3-1 lead against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Semifinals. As a result, (Head Coach) Doc Rivers was fired, eventually replaced by (lead assistant) Tyronn Lue, who will spend this season attempting to guide his charges past that monumental meltdown. Make no mistake, as inexplicable as that collapse was, Los Angeles still remains one of the most talented outfits in the league, and if the early returns are any indication then Lue has them on the right path towards redemption. Of course, the 43-year old has had plenty of experience in leading high-profile superstars with massive egos, and even took over as an in-house choice following an underachieving finish once before; we’re referring to his tenure in Cleveland, where he replaced the incumbent David Blatt en route to leading a unit featuring the likes of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love to three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, including the greatest upset in NBA history, toppling the mighty Golden State Warriors in 2016. With just over a month of the schedule in the books, the Clippers have positioned themselves atop the always-competitive West, one of only a small handful of teams that rank within the Top-10 offensively and defensively; thus far they’ve averaged 115.0 points per game (6th Overall) on 48.2% shooting from the field (4th Overall), including a league-best 42.3% from beyond the arc (1st Overall), while yielding just 107.1 points per contest (4th Overall). Both Leonard and George have been excellent in the early stages of the campaign, with each shooting over 50.0% from the field and 40.0% from downtown. George in particular has looked like he’s been on a mission; after slumping during the Playoffs where he managed a miserable 39.8% shooting from the floor and 33.3% from long-range with nearly as many turnovers (3.1) as assists (3.8), the five-time All-NBA selection is currently in the midst of his most efficient season, shooting career-highs from the field (50.8%) and three (47.8%) with 5.5 assists, which is also a career-best. However, apart from their stars the team’s newer faces have made a strong impact as well. Los Angeles added (veteran Forwards) Serge Ibaka (12.3 PTS, 52.2% FG, 41.0% 3FG, 6.7 REB, 1.8 AST, 1.3 BLK, 19.2 PER), Nicolas Batum (10.2 PTS, 50.3% FG, 46.2% 3FG, 4.7 REB, 2.5 AST, 1.1 STL, 15.3 PER), and Luke Kennard (8.1 PTS, 46.7% FG, 44.6% 3FG, 2.8 REB, 1.8 AST, 10.9 PER) in the offseason, with the Ibaka bringing some sorely-needed size and shot-blocking to the Frontcourt, while Batum has resurrected his career after wallowing in basketball obscurity for what feels like ages, with Kennard serving as another shooter to space the floor.
“I had some good looks, and I just told myself that if I got the same open shots, I would knock them down.”Paul George on his torrid shooting from downtown in Wednesday’s 121099 drubbing of the Cavaliers, capping the Clippers’ 6-game eastern road trip.
When we last saw the Clippers, they rebounded from what was just their second loss in twelve contests with a 121-99 thumping of the Cleveland Cavaliers, rounding out their six-game eastern road trip with a bang. After coming up short in a thrilling potential NBA Finals preview with the new-look Brooklyn Nets (124-120), Los Angeles proceeded to take out their frustrations on Cleveland, who were never really in the affair, which was dominated by the visitors’ prowess from beyond the arc. We touched upon earlier just good Lue’s troops have been in this regard, and their exploits on Wednesday night did nothing to change that as they netted staggering a season-best 20-of-34 three-pointers (58.8%), outscoring the hosts by a whopping FORTY-EIGHT points in the process. Needless to say, this is one that Lue was happy to get, particularly given how his tenure with the franchise ended, fired just six games into the 2018-2019 campaign. Things started quickly for the Clippers who drilled each of their first five treys of the night en route to shooting 6-of-9 from long-range in the First Quarter alone here they outscored the home side 33-25. The Cavs managed to claw their way back into the game and cut the deficit to ten in the final period of play, but a swift 12-0 run from the visiting side ended any and all hopes of a proper comeback. Five different players knocked down at least a pair of three-pointers, led by the aforementioned George who sank a ridiculous 8-of-9 attempts (88.9%) en route to a game-high thirty-six points along with four rebounds and six assists. Leonard accounted for twenty-four points and 3-of-6 shooting from downtown (50.0%), Ibaka chipped in with fourteen points and 2-of-3 shooting from distance (66.7%), while (Sixth Man extraordinaire) Lou Williams (9.4 PTS, 39.0% FG, 38.0% 3FG, 2.0 REB, 3.0 AST, 0.7 STL, 13.4 PER) poured in fifteen points off the bench with 2-of-3 shooting from three as well (66.7%). (Young Center) Ivica Zubac (7.6 PTS, 64.6% FG, 6.3 REB, 1.0 AST, 0.9 BLK, 19.9 PER) totaled ten points and sixteen rebounds just over twenty-seven minutes off the bench to boot. For all their troubles defending the perimeter, Cleveland did manage to get back into the game on the strength of clear advantages in paint points (Plus-22), fast-break points (Plus-6), and points off turnovers (Plus-6), but they simply couldn’t keep pace with that onslaught raining down on them.