Game Preview: Celtics at Clippers

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BOSTON – The Boston Celtics (14-13) will begin their first West Coast trip of the season at 10:30 p.m. tonight in Los Angeles, and all they have to do is take on the hottest team in the NBA. The Los Angeles Clippers (22-6) have won 14 consecutive games and 10 of those victories have arrived with a double-digit scoring margin.

Los Angeles’ dominant play has reached its peak over the past six games. It has won those six contests by an average of 15.7 points per game, and all of those wins were by at least 12 points.

The main reason for the Clippers’ emergence has been the development of their defense. They are giving up just 87.7 PPG in the month of December, which accounts for 13 of the 14 games of their winning streak. One statistic in particular showcases the fact that the Clippers are in the correct defensive position more often than not: Los Angeles is sending opponents to the line just 19.6 times per game this month, which is a decrease of 7.5 attempts compared to their November games.

Offense has also been a strong point for the Clips. Four of their players are averaging between 13.3 PPG and 19.6 PPG in December, with Blake Griffin’s 19.6 PPG leading the way. The team is shooting 48.6 percent from the floor as a team this month.

There’s no doubt that the Celtics will be faced with a difficult task tonight, but they have been developing as a team as well. They would be on a three-game winning streak had they not fallen in overtime to Milwaukee on November 21. Boston has been showing signs of development at both ends of the court, and Doc Rivers loves what he has seen.

“I think we’re very, very close to becoming a good team, but we’re not yet,” Rivers said after his team’s Christmas Day victory over the Nets. “Our record says we’re not (a good team). Until our record says we are, we’re not, but we are playing better.”

That is a fact thanks to a drastic improvement at the defensive end. Boston’s defense has allowed its last three opponents to score just 88.7 PPG and shoot just 41.6 percent from the floor. The Celtics gave their best defensive performance of the season on Christmas Day in Brooklyn when they limited the Nets to just 76 points on 40.6 percent shooting.

Boston has been playing very good basketball over its last three games, but it will be the underdog during tonight’s opening game of its West Coast trip. The Clippers are the hottest team in the league and they’re humming at both ends of the court.

KG, Blake

Kevin Garnett and Blake Griffin will face off at power forward in one of the more important matchups of tonight's game.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

KG’s Defense

This will be one of the critical factors in Boston’s ability to win tonight’s game. Griffin is playing phenomenal basketball right now. He’s leading Los Angeles in scoring this season with 18.1 PPG and is has shot a ridiculous 58.2 percent from the field thus far in December.

Griffin has a decent jump shot but he scores the majority of his points through his athleticism. Garnett has the length, agility and know-how to negate that athleticism. The Celtics will need KG to do that tonight.

Ride The Truth

There hasn’t been anyone in the league who has been hotter than Paul Pierce of late. Pierce scored just eight points on Tuesday, but that’s because he was busy dishing out a game-high 10 assists against Brooklyn. He had averaged 37.5 PPG in his previous two contests before Tuesday’s game.

Pierce is typically faced with a tough task at both ends of the court because small forward is a loaded position in the NBA. Tonight, however, he may get a breather at one end. Caron Butler starts at small forward for Los Angeles and he is not much of an offensive player anymore. He’s shooting just 40.4 percent from the floor on the season and is scoring just 9.1 PPG. If Pierce can relax a bit at the defensive end of the floor tonight, the C’s may be able to ride him at the other end.

It’s a Big Game

There’s something about the Celtics that makes them play great when they’re under the spotlight. Heck, look at what they did during a nationally televised Christmas Day game on Tuesday; they dismantled the Nets, who had previously been 2-0 against Boston this season.

Tonight’s game will be under the spotlight as well. This matchup will be nationally broadcast on TNT and the C’s will be taking on two of the most popular players in the league in Griffin and Chris Paul. You can bet that they’ll be excited to get onto the floor tonight.