Game Preview: Celtics at Clippers
BOSTON – The Big Four are still on board, but the story tonight in Los Angeles is that the Boston Celtics will get their first taste of action with their newly acquired teammates.
The Celtics (41-15) will take on the Clippers (21-38) at 10:30 p.m. tonight in the Staples Center with along Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic, who were acquired at Thursday's trade deadline.
Boston was forced to play Thursday night's contest against the Nuggets with a very short lineup after it shipped five players out at the deadline in multiple deals on Thursday in return for Green, Krstic and two second-round draft picks. The Celtics signed Chris Johnson to a 10-day contract just hours before the game to bring the total of available bodies to nine, but the shorthanded C's lost 89-75.
Thankfully for the Celtics, that won't be the case tonight in Los Angeles. Doc Rivers will have an 11-man arsenal ready to tip things off with the new lineup, as Green and Krstic will be able to strut their stuff in green and white for the very first time.
Green, who is averaging 15.2 PPG this season, will likely serve as the backup to Paul Pierce, while Krstic may actually get the start at center. Both players will play key roles in Boston's pursuit of an 18th championship, but until tonight's game tips off, no one outside of the locker room will really know how the new players will be utilized moving forward. Rivers will likely tinker with the rotations tonight in a similar fashion to a preseason game, but don't expect the starters to lose minutes because of that.
Although Boston is primed to remake its bench with the likes of Green, Krstic and possible veteran free agents, the core four will continue to be the anchor of this ship. They were forced to play a ton of minutes on Thursday night in Denver and it wound up haunting them over the final five minutes of the contest.
Despite leading by three with less than five minutes remaining, the C's couldn't muster up a single point down the stretch and finished scoreless over the final 6:04 of the game. By the time the final buzzer sounded, four of Boston's starters had racked up at least 35 minutes of playing time, compared to not a single Nugget registering more than 32 minutes.
The Clippers, who are the only remaining team in the NBA who hasn't faced Boston this season, also made a big move at the deadline by shipping Baron Davis to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Davis was shipped to the Cavs in exchange for sharpshooter Mo Williams and swingman Jamario Moon.
Tonight will mark the second game of the Clippers' post-Davis era, as they lost to the Lakers last night by a score of 108-95. While the Clip Show may have fallen to the Lake Show last night in its first game without the enigmatic Davis, we all know that the future of this franchise revolves around one player: Blake Griffin.
Griffin has taken the NBA by storm in his rookie campaign despite being just 13 months removed from a two-part surgery to repair the patellar tendon in his left knee. He is averaging 22.8 PPG and 12.6 RPG and is on the fast path to winning the Rookie of the Year award.
The world has taken notice of Griffin's freakish athleticism that allows him to throw down thunderous dunks on suspecting opponents. He is fresh off of winning the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star weekend and is certainly a lot to handle for opponents.
That responsibility will fall on Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis' shoulders tonight, as they'll likely handle most, if not all, of the minutes at power forward. Garnett's length may be the key ingredient to slowing Griffin down, and Baby's quick feet may be able to do the trick as well. But as Griffin's statistics clearly indicate, he's not exactly an easy player to contain.
With that being said, the Celtics have plenty of talent to make it happen. Boston should come out with an extra boost of energy tonight with the new players being infused into a lineup that stumbled through the final minutes of Thursday's loss. The hope is that these new players will begin and close their 2011 season with the Celtics in the very same manner – with a win. That would mean the C's avoid a second straight loss tonight, and secure a championship in June.
Don't Join Club Griff
The number of teams that have been admitted to Club Griff this season are countless, as Griffin has thrown down monster slams on just about everyone in the league. He has torn nine teams up for 30 or more points (10 total occurrences) and 17 teams up with at least 15 rebounds. The ongoing theme for those opponents? Many of them are above .500, and many of those games were big ones.
You can bet that this game qualifies as both a .500+ opponent and a big game for Griffin, so the C's will have to do everything they can to avoid admission to his club. Griffin is one of the most explosive players this game has seen in years and he can score in plenty of ways. He can shoot the basketball, he can blow by you to the rim and he can score even if a defender looks like he is draped on Griffin. Garnett and Davis, and whoever else sees time defending Griffin, will need to be alert at all times and not allow the rookie to make any big plays that could fire up his teammates and the crowd.
Emotions got the best of the Celtics on Thursday night just hours after they were given the news that Kendrick Perkins, their longtime running mate, had been shipped out to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Nearly the entire team relayed that sentiment after the game concluded, including Garnett.
"Tough day to play basketball... to even concentrate. Just being bluntly honest," Garnett said after the loss. "It's not even about a teammate. It is like you lost a family member today. It is a tough day."
It has only been a couple of days since that emotional goodbye, but the C's must look forward rather than back, and quickly. The Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls are right on Boston's back for the top seed in the East, and the C's simply cannot give away games that they should win, much like they did Thursday night. Everyone on Boston's team, from Rivers to Krstic, must put emotions aside and get to work tonight. If they do, they should be able to leave Los Angeles with an expected win.
Save Some for the End
Denver showed Boston what happens at the end of games when one team has plenty left in the tank and the other doesn't. The C's were shut out for more than half of the final quarter Thursday night, and Rivers admitted after the game that fatigue was likely the cause.
"It looked like that," Rivers said after being asked if his team just ran out of gas. "We tried to keep seven in, in five-minute increments. I wasn't real happy what we ran down the stretch of the game. We walked into a lot of sets and that might have been a little fatigue"
The Nuggets are now a young and deep team, and the same can be said about the Clippers. Griffin is the headliner for Los Angeles, but he also runs with fifth-year guard Randy Foye (8.7 PPG), third-year center DeAndre Jordan (6.8 PPG, 6.9 RPG) and rookie Eric Bledsoe (6.7 PPG, 3.9 APG). Luckily for the Celtics, third-year guard Eric Gordon, who leads the team in scoring with 24.1 PPG, will not play due to a wrist injury.
Still, the Clippers have plenty of young talent and it's almost a guarantee that they'll have plenty left in the tank when this game comes to a close. The question is, will the Celtics? With a day off and two new players arriving, the answer should be yes.