Cleveland, Toronto, Detroit, Washington, and Charlotte.
Those aren’t the most imposing teams, and that’s the point. The Boston Celtics have lost 5 of their fifteen games to low end teams. Despite the Clippers season of giant slaying, they’re one of those low end teams, too.
The question remaining is if the Clippers can regain the momentum that they during that 9-4 January. The 2-9 road trip has done enough emotionally to the team that it would have been hard to right themselves even the continuity of the team remained. Such is not the case. Baron was the team’s best distributor and so the flow of the offense will have re-calibrate on the fly. Eric Gordon and Mo Williams won’t return to action until, most likely, Monday, so the Clips will have to lean on Bledsoe and hope for his return to his early season form if they want to beat the Celtics tonight.
Remember, amongst the big wins, the Clippers beat the Thunder and the Hornets without Baron and the Spurs with Baron as a super sub. A Bledsoe run team can still beat the elite.
Keys to the Game
– Boston’s defense. The Celtic’s have a comically good defense, and the stats back it up. Their first in points allowed, assists allowed, defensive rebounds allowed, three pointers allowed, field goals allowed and, not surprisingly, defensive efficiency. But watching them is even better, they have elite defenders at the point and power forward position (Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo) and their communication leads to the best rotations in the league. They play the bully a lot (at least they don’t have Perkins anymore), but if you’re trying to defend anything, doesn’t that make sense to be a little mean about it? The Celtic defense will be difficult to break down, and with the load of second rate bench bigs, the odds of Garnett going after one is pretty high (I’m hoping it’s the Rhino, he won’t take that). Clips need to not only stand their ground, but attack the basket with authority.
– Blake Griffin and Kevin Garnett. Everything is relative, but Blake has struggled against long defenders like Kevin Garnett (or Pau Gasol last night). But Garnett’s defense isn’t the only problem, he’s a handful on the offensive end as well. He’s averaging 17.2 points per game, a 21.2 PER and while he’s not the central offensive cog on the Celtics, he is one of the central cogs. He works great in the pick and roll, has that un-guardable turnaround fadeaway jumper and he’s still good around the rim. Blake has all the athleticism necessary and then more to handle Kevin Garnett, but KG’s heady intelligence and awareness is what Blake lacks.
– Rajon Rondo. If a more unique point guard plays in this league, I don’t know who it is. He’s an elite defender at the point, has impeccable feel and court vision, can rebound and is an impressively bad shooter. According to HoopData.com, once outside of close range, where he shoots 66.7 percent, Rondo’s shooting percentage drops precipitously. He shoots 34.1 percent inside 10 feet, 27.8 percent from 10-15 feet, 41 percent from 16-23 (more on this) and 32.3 percent from three (in only 31 attempts on the year). With his inability to shoot, teams lay off him, daring him to do that. For an elite perimeter player, the amount of wide open 18 footers he has is astounding (and the reason for that decent 41 percent from 16-23 feet). But what that space also allows him to do is take his time, get his players the ball when and where they want it. It’s a huge reason why the Celtics have the game’s highest eFG and FG percentage. They just get the best looks. With his speed and ability to finish around the rim, guards can’t play him close or he’ll blow right by them (sometimes with the help of a KG screen). The best is to hope that the Rondo’s defender can create havoc jumping in passing lanes and double teaming. Bledsoe has the athleticism and the aggression to do that.
Eric Gordon: right wrist, day to day
Shaquille O’Neal: back, out
Jermaine O’Neal: left knee, out
Are some potential debuts on the horizon? Mo Williams and Jamario Moon are most likely going to suit up Monday against Sacramento, but they may be available against Boston. The Celtics should welcome Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to their rotation for the first time as well.
Update: No Mo Williams, no Jamario. The trade still hasn’t been finalized.