If the Celtics lose against a 15 win team, and no one is awake to see it, did it really happen? Unfortunately for the C’s the answer is yes as they delivered one of their sloppiest games of the season.
They kept the door wide open all night for the Clippers who snuck in at the end to steal one from the defending champs.
The writing was on the wall in this one from the opening tip. I suspected in my preview yesterday that the Celtics could have a game on their hands and sadly my prediction was on the mark. There were two main factors that were lining up in the Clippers favor heading into this game.
The ESPN recap headline, “Randolph’s 30 drive Clippers’ upset of Celtics” will have you believe that Zach Randolph’s 30 points led the Clippers to victory in this game. I couldn’t find that statement to be more misleading. The Celtics were shorthanded up front yes but it was not the Celtics undoing in this game.
Both teams knew what the Clippers gameplan was for this game: feed number 50 on the block early and often. Coach Doc Rivers made the decision to guard Randolph one on one the entire way with the goal of not letting the Clippers other offensive weapons beat the Celts from the perimeter. This decision on the whole proved to be a wise one.
A combination of Leon Powe, Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis handled the defensive duties admirably throughout the night. They racked up a combined 15 fouls but never allowed Randolph to find a groove offensively over the course of the night as he was held to 40% shooting from the field, 8 percentage points below his season average. You tell Doc his guys held Randolph to those numbers defending him one on one before the game and he would be thrilled.
In addition to his subpar shooting night Randolph was the consummate ball hog during the course of his 43 minutes on the floor. The Celtics defense forced the 260 pounder into tough shooting spots all night long but this did not stop him from firing away with no regard for where he was on the floor.
He in essence became a virtual black hole on offense by taking 30 shots on the evening. His actions killed any kind of Clipper ball movement when he touched the ball and this over reliance on the big man during a relative off night limited the team’s offensive production for the evening.
So if I’m saying Randolph was not the main force behind the Clippers I’m sure you would wonder how they pulled it off? The simple answer: The entire team played with energy and intensity. There aren’t many games a 15 win team will get up for, but facing the defending champs at home was one of the likely exceptions.
The C’s coming off of surprisingly easy wins over Phoenix and Denver may have left this team feeling somewhat overconfident entering this game. That combined with this contest being final game of a two week road swing left the C’s sloppy, lacking energy, and likely hoping the Clippers would just roll over in this one. The home team failed to oblige.
Despite my criticisms, What Randolph did bring to the table along with the rest of the teammates was some liveliness and passion in their play that Clippers fans haven’t seen for most of the year. The home team was running at open shooters, hitting the offensive glass, (13 offensive rebounds for the team, 6 by Randolph) fighting for loose balls, and getting into passing lanes.
The Celtics responded to this energy in limited spurts over the course of the night but could not sustain them for any length of time. The Celts were rewarded when they got out and ran but they rarely got going in transition with only 10 fast break points on the night, a sharp contrast from the last couple wins.
Without KG it is in the team’s best interest to get out and run to utilize Rajon Rondo to his fullest potential. Last night that did not happen. More thoughts after the jump.
Besides the Celtics’ obvious problems for the night (turnovers, free throw shooting) the biggest hindrance for the C’s was their inability/unwillingness to get points in the paint. Kendrick Perkins was a ghost on offense attempting only three shots. His lack of involvement left Leon Powe as the only viable scoring threat from the post.
Leon had an off night going 1/6 from the field in addition to missing three free throws. The Celtics did not look to go down low all night with Leon off and this limited the effectiveness of their ball movement offensively as the Clippers D stayed tight on the perimeter knowing that the C’s would not be looking down low.
One thing that stands out to me about this loss and the one against the Jazz was the Celtics’ inability to get Ray Allen involved in the offense down the stretch. He only took one shot in the final quarter of the Utah game and he only took one in the fourth last night as well.
Without Ray involved down the stretch, the C’s offense becomes much too predictable and one dimensional. They have to figure out a more effective way to get him the ball down the stretch in tight games to take the onus off of Pierce.
All this being said the Celts were still one Pierce 13 footer away from stealing this game. The Clippers played poorly for a lot of this one but the Celtics played even worse with 20 turnovers and 10 missed free throws including going 3/8 from the stripe in the final 3:15.
I don’t care who you are playing, when you miss that many freebies in a tight game you are bound to lose it. Missed free throws down the stretch along with the turnovers have been a constant theme in the C’s losses this season. Work must be done to ensure these faults don’t cost this team games in May and June.
The arrival of Mikki Moore seems to have awakened Big Baby’s shooting abilities as he had his best night shooting the basketball as a pro hitting five long jumpers, including a couple with Marcus Camby running at him. I have ragged on him all year long about these jumpers but hopefully this game will be a turning point for him in making them consistently.
Speaking of Mikki Moore he has a solid but unspectacular debut, hitting a couple jumpers with a rebound and a couple assists over 13 minutes. The shot looked good but Moore looked lost as expected on the defensive end, having trouble with a couple pick and rolls and committing a couple fouls that resulted in And 1’s. Once he works out the kinks on that end he should be an asset to this team.
It would be foolish of me to overlook the impact Mardy Collins and Fred Jones had on this game tonight. Jones was a sparkplug off the bench with 11 points on 4/5 shooting including a couple tough jumpers down the stretch.
Collins had a stellar evening as well with 12 points 5 rebounds and 5 assists. His biggest impact however came on the defensive end where he guarded Pierce for much of the contest and refused to back down to the Truth.
Collins played pesky defense on Paul all night long and after Pierce came back after suffering a dislocated thumb Collins he gave that thumb some extra attention when Pierce took the ball to the hole.
A couple of these plays by Collins and Ricky Davis may have contributed to a second dislocation for Pierce’s thumb. Mike Gorman called it dirty play.
Tommy Heinsohn pointed out in the postgame how Pierce may have thought twice about taking the ball to the hoop in the closing seconds. Whatever you may think of Collins’ actions, it was that kind of intensity that helped the Clippers win this game.
Finally it will probably be glossed over in the recaps but the refs made a crucial mistake in the final minute of this one that very well could have caused the Celtics the game.
With 33 seconds left Rajon Rondo was taking his 2nd free throw with Boston nursing a one point lead. Rajon missed the free throw and the rebound falls deep into the lane into the hands of Mardy Collins briefly. Big Baby turns and almost instantly knocks the ball cleanly out of Collins hands and it appears certain to retrieve the loose ball when the whistle blows.
The call was unclear but it appeared to be a foul call on Davis to the commentators and us watching at home.
However after the game it became clear in Rivers’ postgame press conference that the refs awarded the Clippers a gift timeout upon the ball falling into Collins hands.
When you look at the replays it is debatable that he ever had possession of the ball at all, and he certainly did not have it long enough to call a time out. A no call there likely gives the Celtics the ball clinging to a one point lead with a fresh shot clock with 30 seconds remaining.
Instead the Clips took advantage of the miscall and scored the game winning basket on a Randolph putback with 19 seconds remaining. A tough break for the C’s who ended the game fittingly with a turnover as time expired.