12/8 Game Preview: Celtics at Clippers
The inconsistent Los Angeles Clippers will put their on-again, off-again status on full display Wednesday, this time at home against the Boston Celtics.
In what might have been the epitome of their erratic play early this season, the Clippers played an unattractive brand of basketball Monday yet still pulled out a 102-90 road victory against the Portland Trail Blazers.
While the Clippers achieved the desired result without Nicolas Batum (COVID protocols) and with Luke Kennard making his first start of the season, the victory was more about the shortcomings of the Trail Blazers, who were without stars Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum because of injury.
Even so, the Blazers still had the chance to tie or take the lead with possession of the ball down 90-88 with less than three minutes to go. The Clippers were able to expose Portland's lack of a clutch scorer down the stretch.
"It's just making plays for other guys, whether you have the ball or are moving off without the ball," said Kennard, who embraced his chance to start by scoring 13 of his 15 points in the first half. "Being in the right spots, for sure."
Paul George had 21 points for the Clippers and Marcus Morris Sr. added 17 as he quickly rounds into form after missing 15 games with left knee injury. After finally returning Nov. 23, Morris has averaged 19.7 points over his past three games.
The Clippers won two of their past three, all road games, losing at Sacramento on Saturday after delivering one of their best overall games of the season in a 119-115 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday.
"We did a decent job," George said of the win Monday in Portland. "There will obviously be some (film) clips that we can show where we weren't in the right positions, but for the most part, I thought we did a better job, especially when you compare it against the (Sacramento) game."
The Clippers are optimistic they can start to deliver better overall efforts with Batum nearly back from what has been a nine-game absence so far. The veteran forward has cleared protocols but is now working on his fitness level.
The Celtics also know inconsistency well. Lingering around the .500 mark, they fell 137-130 at Utah on Friday and turned around one day later to demolish the Trail Blazers 145-117. The roller coaster continued when Boston opened its Los Angeles back-to-back on Tuesday with a 117-102 loss to the Lakers.
Jayson Tatum scored 34 points for the Celtics, but none of his teammates had more than 13 and Boston was outrebounded 51-34.
The Celtics' defense let the Lakers shoot 51.6 percent while Boston hit 43.9 percent to derail its recent run of improved offensive efficiency. Boston coach Ime Udoka pulled his starters with five minutes remaining.
"We wanted to invite them to shoot jump shots and keep them out of the paint," Udoka said of the Lakers, adding that his regulars lacked spark. "Obviously that didn't work."