Game Preview: Clippers at Celtics

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics (23-23) haven’t been phased by the fact that they’ve lost Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger for the season due to injuries. They’re currently riding a three-game winning streak and showcasing fantastic basketball.

Who would have thought?

The Celtics will look to make it four in a row at 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon when they host a struggling Los Angeles Clippers (34-14) team. The Clippers have lost five of their last 10 games and were embarrassed by the Raptors Friday night in Toronto during a 98-73 loss.

Los Angeles is in a tailspin due to the same reason why many pundits believe Boston should be in a tailspin – they’re playing without their superstar point guard. Chris Paul has missed the last six games with a bruised right kneecap and is listed as a game-time decision for Sunday’s contest. However, multiple media outlets have reported that Paul absolutely will not play in this game.

Such a scenario would certainly assist the Celtics in grabbing a fourth straight win. The Clippers are not the same team without Paul, who is second in the NBA behind Rondo in assists per game. They have lost four of the recent six games Paul has missed and the offense has dropped off considerably in nearly every category.

The Clippers still have a talented backup point guard in Eric Bledsoe, but he just isn’t cutting it in the starting role. Bledsoe’s raw numbers as a starter are solid but his shooting, at 35.9 percent from the field, has been absolutely dreadful.

Boston lost Rondo but its defense is still equipped to match up well with just about any team. Avery Bradley is likely to harass Bledsoe and Courtney Lee will work on Los Angeles’ shooting guards. The C’s will, however, need to keep close tabs on Blake Griffin.

Griffin was fantastic against the Celtics when these teams met for the first time on Dec. 27. He scored 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting and grabbed eight boards. Keep in mind that he did that in only 26 minutes of action.

Los Angeles’ All-Star power forward was a key reason why the Clippers blew the Celtics out by 29 points in that game. Griffin was one of three Clippers players who grabbed at least seven rebounds and one of four who scored at least 14 points.

The Celtics couldn’t handle that balanced Clippers attack on the opening night of their first West Coast road trip of the season. Los Angeles’ players ran circles around the C’s and truly embarrassed them.

Sunday’s game could wind up being a completely different story. Boston is playing great basketball and the Clippers are not the same team without Paul. Who would have thought that under the circumstances, Boston could be well on its way to a fourth consecutive win on Sunday?

Win the Bench Battle

Boston’s bench has been phenomenal in 2013 despite the fact that some bench players, namely Lee and Sullinger (who’s now out for the season), have been thrust into the starting lineup. The group has been dominating opponents on a nightly basis, particularly in the last two contests. Boston’s bench has had three players score at least 12 points apiece in each of those games.

Back in December, the Celtics reserves totaled just 29 points and all six reserves who appeared in the game finished with a poor plus/minus rating. Meanwhile, two Clippers reserves, Matt Barnes (21 points) and Jamal Crawford (17 points), were dominant. Three of L.A.’s bench players finished with a plus/minus rating of at least plus-10.

The Celtics’ bench cannot allow that to happen again.

Now You’re on Our Turf

The Clippers may have crushed the Celtics in the Staples Center back in December, but now these teams will be meeting in Boston. Make no mistake about it – that is a major factor in this game.

The Celtics have been a very good team in TD Garden this year. Sixteen of their 23 wins have taken place in front of the Boston faithful. The Celtics are also going to be coming off of a day of rest, which is a far cry from what they had while adjusting to West Coast time prior to their December meeting with the Clips.

The roles for these two teams has essentially been reversed. The C’s are rested while the Clippers are struggling on the opposite coast. This will be the third game of an eight-game road trip for Los Angeles. The Clippers were crushed in their first East Coast game of that trip on Friday night.

Perimeter Defense

The way to beat the Clippers without Paul is to turn them into a one-on-one team. That’s what the Raptors did Friday night and it worked to perfection.

Los Angeles totaled just 12 assists as a team during its loss in Toronto. To put that into perspective, that’s almost the same number of assists that Rondo averaged per game this season all by himself. The Clippers have a ton of talent and athleticism on their team but the only true one-on-one player is Crawford. Everyone else is much more comfortable in a structured passing offense.

Shutting the Clippers down on the perimeter would take away that structured offense. Bradley and Lee need to defend well and Boston’s bigs must excel at defending the pick-and-roll.