Before the New England Patriots played the Atlanta Falcons on Super Bowl Sunday, the Boston Celtics hosted the LA Clippers at TD Garden. This was Paul Pierce’s final game in Boston after spending the first 15 seasons of his career with the Celtics. This was also the 4th visit back to Boston for Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, who left the Celtics to come to LA in 2013.
It took four years, but Boston head coach Brad Stevens clearly has his Celtics team ahead of Rivers’ Clippers team. The Celtics defeated the Clippers in Boston for the second year in a row, giving Boston a 33-31 edge in wins this season.
Top Performer: LA has been destroyed by opposing point guards lately, and relatively speaking, they did okay against red-hot Boston All-Star PG Isaiah Thomas, who scored an average of 40.0 points in the previous four games. Thomas “only” had 28 points against the Clippers, making less than 40 percent of his 18 field goals and less than 30 percent of his 11 threes. But Thomas is a killer because he eats from the free throw line, and he made 11-of-12 attempts from the stripe. Only James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Jimmy Butler have more games this season of at least 10 made FTs than Thomas, who now has 15 such games this season.
X-Factor: The Celtics made 16 out of a franchise-record 52 threes against the Clippers. That’s a ridiculous amount of three-point attempts, and Boston wasn’t even good at making them consistently, shooting only 30.8 percent. All 10 Celtics that played attempted at least 2 threes. This NBA season has seen the first 8 games in league history where a team has attempted at least 50 threes, with the Houston Rockets having 6 of those games. The Rockets just shot themselves out of a game and blew a huge 4th quarter lead to the Hawks last week. It’s horrible to see teams shoot (and miss) so many threes, but even a garbage can gets a steak, and the Celtics made 6 more threes than the Clippers on Sunday. In a game that was decided by 5 points, that was the difference.
Major Moment: Boston was at their best and effectively put the game away after the Clippers made it a 7-point game with 10 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Over the next 9:35, the Celtics went on a 23-12 run that saw them assist on all 8 of their field goals, including 5 threes. Thomas didn’t even score during this significant stretch of the quarter, but he did have 3 assists, while backup SG Marcus Smart made a couple of threes. Boston eventually grew the largest lead of the game at 18 points, and the Clippers weren’t able to complete a late comeback attempt. There was enough time for Pierce to get his shine for his final game in Boston, though:
Paul Pierce goes out with a bang! pic.twitter.com/d4EInbgb95
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) February 5, 2017
Key Lineups: The Clippers struggled mightily when backups Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford, and Luc Mbah a Moute were on the floor with PF Blake Griffin and C DeAndre Jordan. In 3 1st half minutes, that 5-man unit made only 1-of-7 from the field while getting outscored 13-3, compiling a net rating of -132.1.
Boston’s 3rd quarter lineup of backups Terry Rozier, Smart, and PF Kelly Olynyk along with starting SF Jae Crowder and C Al Horford was the key behind building the largest lead of the game. In 3 minutes, that 5-man unit outscored the Clippers 10-4 while compiling a net rating of 86.1, making 4-of-5 field goals while holding the Clippers to 2-of-5 field goals.
The Definition: It’s going to be hard to define this game as anything other than Paul Pierce’s farewell to Boston. Everyone was asked about it after the game, and Pierce even did the walk-off interview with ABC. Thomas acknowledged that Pierce gave him his blessing as far as holding the torch for the Celtics, and everyone from Brad Stevens to Al Horford were happy about the way the game ended: Pierce making his last three, and the Celtics winning.
For the Clippers, though, they have been dreadful defensively since Griffin came back on January 24. No team has a worst defensive rating and no team has forced fewer turnovers. Griffin has played well in his five games since coming back, but the Clippers are only 1-4 during that stretch.