Game Preview: Clippers at Celtics

BOSTON – It may not be the Lake Show, but the Blake Show will surely suffice.

The city of Boston will get its first taste of super-rookie Blake Griffin at 7:30 p.m. tonight when the Los Angeles Clippers (24-40) visit the Celtics (46-15) in the TD Garden.

This will be the second and final meeting of the season for these two teams, as Boston has already notched a 99-92 victory over the Clippers in the Staples Center on Feb. 26.

Boston shot only 41.1 percent from the floor in that game, which was their third contest of a four-game, West Coast trip, but their offensive continuity still shined bright to Griffin.

“The thing about them is how well they move the ball and play off each other,” Griffin said after the game. “You can tell they have been playing together for a while. That's tough to beat when they're moving the ball and everybody knows their role.”

The scary thing for Griffin and the Clippers is that they left that contest with such an impression despite a very below-average performance by the Celtics’ offense. Paul Pierce led the way with his 24 points for Boston and Ray Allen chipped in 22, but the team shot very poorly overall and accumulated only 21 assists. The C’s shot 8.2 percent worse than their season average of 49.3 percent and the 21 assists finished far below their league-leading average of 24.2 per game.

A lack of offensive execution was somewhat expected for Boston, which was welcoming two new players into its rotation with substantial minutes. Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic, who were acquired just two days prior to that game and hadn’t yet practiced with the team, made their Celtics debuts against the Clippers and logged 18 and 21 minutes, respectively.

Those two players’ roles and comfort level have been since been sculpted, meaning the Clippers are almost guaranteed to get a different look out of Boston tonight. Krstic has settled in as the starting center and has opened up the Celtics’ offense with his ability to finish around the basket and hit midrange jumpers. Green has given Boston depth at three different positions and has scored in double-figures in two consecutive games.

Los Angeles will also get its first taste of the rest of Boston’s new bench. Troy Murphy and Sasha Pavlovic have since been added to the team, appearing in three and one games, respectively, and Carlos Arroyo will be available for his first appearance with the Celtics.

While Boston’s roster has been shaken up, Los Angeles’ has remained exactly the same. That could be a good thing or a bad thing for this Clippers team.

Eric Gordon is the team’s leading scorer with an average of 23.7 PPG, but the Celtics will sidestep him yet again tonight due to a wrist injury. Gordon missed the last meeting between these two teams as he recovered from an injury to his right wrist. He had since returned to the lineup for two contests, but reinjured the wrist on March 5 and is back on the injured list.

With Gordon not being available for tonight’s game, Randy Foye will step in to replace him. Considering how he performed against Boston in that same role just 12 days ago, that could be a positive for Los Angeles.

Foye was a game-changer in the first meeting, scoring a game-high 32 points while dishing out a team-high seven assists. He logged nearly 44 minutes of playing time and made half of his 20 field goal attempts, including a 4-of-11 performance from 3-point range.

Even with that monster performance by Foye and a 21-point, 11-rebound effort from Griffin, the Clippers weren’t able to keep up with the Celtics in the second half. Boston used a 16-2 run in the third quarter to take hold of the game and eventually pull out a big road win over the young Clippers.

Boston has an opportunity to up its winning streak to six games, while halting, the Clippers’ streak at three, with a win tonight in front of a Garden crowd that should be rocking with the anticipation of seeing Griffin in person for the first time. That victory could be much easier to grab against the Clippers this time around thanks a heightened level of chemistry Boston now has with its new players.

Closing Lineup

With Glen Davis on the mend from a left knee injury, Doc Rivers has been forced to find a new lineup to close out games. David had served as the primary big man alongside Kevin Garnett in the final minutes of games for nearly the entire season, but with him unavailable the C’s have had to alter that lineup.

Green, who had played power forward for nearly his entire career in Oklahoma City, has been the man to fill in for Davis as Garnett has essentially slid over to center. That lineup offers plenty of offensive punch, but Rivers is concerned about its defensive ability. That notion is only exemplified against a big frontline like the Clippers’.

“Honestly the Clipper game would be very difficult with Jeff at [power forward] with those monsters,” he said, alluding to Griffin and centers DeAndre Jordan and Chris Kaman. “I don’t know how good that will be (for us).”

With that statement in mind, it sounds as if Rivers will shy away from that lineup tonight and keep Green at small forward. Such a decision means that someone else, be it Murphy or Krstic, will need to be on the floor for Boston in the final minutes.

Oohs and Ahhs, But No Runs

It’s nearly a guarantee that Griffin will throw down at least one highlight dunk tonight. He is a modern day version of Dominique Wilkins, who was known as the Human Highlight Film. Rivers played with Wilkins, so he understands how difficult it is for a team to prevent those highlight plays and how easy it is for the other team to create one.

“We’d like zero (highlight dunks), but that was our goal and that didn’t really work out the last time in L.A.,” Rivers said with a chuckle. “[Griffin’s] just an amazing athlete. He really is. I was the worst alley-oop passer probably in NBA history, but no one knew it because I had Dominique. You could throw the ball anywhere, which, Blake Griffin, it’s even more of that. All bad passes are good passes.”

Boston probably will be forced to see at least one bad pass turn into a good pass with Griffin tonight, and that will surely draw some oohs and ahhs from the crowd. The C’s just have to make sure that such a play does not spark a big run for the Clippers.

Strong Bench Play

Boston’s starters dominated the first game between these two teams. There’s no way around that fact. Four of the five starters finished with a plus/minus rating of at least plus-13, and Rajon Rondo’s finished at plus-five only because he spent time on the floor with the second unit.

The bad news for Boston was that the bench played terrible. Von Wafer, who will not play tonight due to an injury, was the only reserve to finish in the plus in the plus/minus category, at plus-one, and three bench players finished with at least a minus-seven figure.

The Celtics’ bench is much more solidified nowadays. All of the players now have practice time under their belts, meaning the coaching staff will expect those reserves to play at a much higher level tonight.