If anything illustrates the difference between the Celtics franchise and the Clippers franchise, in terms of winning, the last game was a perfect. The Clippers played very well, held the Celtics to a lower field goal percentage (41 percent to the Clippers 46 percent), fewer assists (21 to 25), fewer blocks (3 to 7), about the same turnovers (16 to 17) but the Celtics used their two areas of strength, rebounding (43-36) and drawing fouls (41 FTA to 21), to leverage themselves to a win. This is not an indictment on the Celtics talent, they are clearly a talented bunch, but every team around the league has off nights. The Clippers clearly outplayed the Cs that night but that small difference, the ability to win on the road when things aren’t quite going your way, distinguishes the good teams from the bad teams.
There is a famous adage about families from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina that says “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” And while you can decide for yourself if that’s actually true, the inverse in basketball is true (switching the happiness for goodness). The good teams are the teams that are unique, they overcome the banality of individual play to raise themselves to a cohesive and aware unit that enables them to win in a multitude of ways. Even when their players play below average, other players step up, like the way KG went 5-14 and Rondo had only two points and 11 assists (for Rondo 11 assists is below average) in the win over the Clippers. The Celtics still got it done thanks to Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.
That’s where the Clippers need to develop (and were beginning to in January), because Blake can’t have an off night and win right now, especially with Gordon out. The talent on the Celtics is greater than that of the Clippers, in terms of depth, but they are getting good minutes even from players like Big Baby Davis. I guarantee had Big Baby started with the Clippers and earned the same amount of minutes or more, that he would not be as useful as he is for the Celtics. Creating great teams is more than aligning KG, Pierce and Allen, it’s developing the Rondos (once a shakier prospect), Davises and Kendrick Perkinses into not just quality players, but quality team players.
Keys to the Game
– Wing defense. This is even more important without Eric Gordon in the lineup, because he’s the best defender on the team. But last game the Celtics wings (Pierce and Allen) scorched the Clippers for a combined 46 points on 46 percent shooting. Maybe the time for Jamario to get more minutes has arrived, because the Clippers need good perimeter defense.
– Mo Williams v. Rajon Rondo. The Clippers may be 3-1 with Mo at the helm, but the seas are about to get rougher. Mo hasn’t fared nearly as well against Rondo. In the last 7 games head to head with Rondo (including playoffs), Mo has averaged 13.3 points on 41 percent shooting and 5.3 assists, slightly below his career averages. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that Rondo averaged 19.4 points on 58 percent shooting and 9.7 assists, much higher than Rondo’s career averages. Even worse, of those seven games, Mo has only won 2 of those, even with LeBron helping him out for those 6 playoff games (if you’re a conspiracy theorist you can say what you will about having LeBron in that series, but he still played phenomenally well). For the Clippers to win against the Celtics, they’ll need more than a slightly sub par Mo Williams and the team defense will have to kick in to slow down Rondo. It might be necessary for Bledsoe to play longer minutes, considering the way he played Rondo in the first game.
– Kevin Garnett. In the first match-up between the two teams the game was close, with a big help from DeAndre Jordan’s coverage of Garnett to start out the game. Garnett shot 5 for 14 but struggled mightily against the man on man defense of DJ. Everyone watching the Clippers knows that DeAndre isn’t a model of consistency, and because of that he might not even start much longer into the future, but when DeAndre is active and involved he’s the best big defender the Clippers have (of course, when he’s not active and involved, which happens, he’s the worst defender on the Clippers). Keeping KG in check goes a long way to defeat the Celtics, as KG grabbed 3 of the teams 14 offensive rebounds (then a season high for the Cs), had the rim shaking alley-oop and the ferocity to bolster the Celtics’ spirits.
Eric Gordon: wrist, out
Jermaine O’Neal: left knee, out
Shaquille O’Neal: strained right achilles/hip, out
Glen Davis: left knee, doubtful
Delonte West: left ankle, doubtful
Von Wafer: strained right calf, doubtful