Boston: 109.6 points/100 possessions (6th)
Clippers: 103.5 points/100 possessions (24th)
Boston: 99.3 points allowed/100 possessions (T-1st)
Clippers: 107.5 points allowed/100 possessions (18th)
Probable LAC starters:
Baron Davis, Chris Kaman, Marcus Camby, Eric Gordon, Al Thorton/Rasual Butler
Thumbnail: The Celtics, still sans Paul Pierce, head West for three winnable road games. (Then again—are we at the point where we can say any road game is winnable?)
WHAT THE CLIPPERS DO WELL:
* Statistically, not very much. They don’t rank in the top 10 in any of the so-called Four Factors of winning (that’s eight including offense and defense); they do best in offensive rebounding rate, where they rank 12th in the league, according to Basketball Reference. Marcus Camby is the best offensive rebounder among the regulars.
* Defend the three. The Clips are slightly better on defense than offense, and this is a major reason why. Opponents are hitting just 33.5 percent of threes against the Clips, the 8th-lowest mark in the league. The three is a major part of Boston’s offense, so the C’s will test LA’s perimeter D.
* Make shots from within 10 feet at the hoop. In a wonderful bit of statistical randomness, the Clips are leading the league—by far—by hitting 53 percent of their shots from between the rim to the area 10 feet from the rim, according to Hoopdata.com. (To be clear: This stat does not include dunks, lay-ins and other shots taken at the rim; that constitutes another category of shots, and the Clippers are average there). The next best team (Phoenix) doesn’t even crack 51 percent.
Of course, the Clips take just 6.4 shots per game in this range—the 3rd-fewest in the league.
I have no solid explanation for any of this, but I suspect it has a lot to do with Chris Kaman’s ambidextrous post game and Baron Davis’ array of post moves and floaters.
* Have one rock-solid five-man line-up.
Despite all the team’s problems, things generally go well for the Clips when they have the combo of Davis-Kaman-Rasual Butler-Eric Gordon-Camby on the floor. Of all NBA line-ups that have played at least 100 minutes together, only two have a higher plus/minus than this group, according to Basketball Value. (And this holds whether you look at just raw plus/minus or get fancy and use adjusted plus/minus).
The guys at Clipperblog originally spotted the awesomeness of this line-up earlier this month. The C’s starting group ranks 7th among five-man line-ups in adjusted plus/minus and 5th in raw plus minus, in case you were wondering.
WHAT THE CLIPS DO POORLY:
* Shoot. From anywhere other than that one little slice of the court we discussed above. But they’re especially bad from three-point range, where they’re hitting just 30.5 percent of their shots. Only four teams are worse. Baron Davis is not helping by continuing to jack 4.5 threes per game while making just 29.9 percent of them, and Rasual Butler (31 percent) has not been the perimeter threat the Clips hoped for when they got him from the Hornets for basically nothing over the summer.
* Defensive Rebounding. Only seven teams pull down a lower percentage of opponent misses. Could this be a rare chance for the C’s (26th in offensive rebounding) to score some second chance points?
* Take care of the ball. The Clips and the C’s sit right next to each other near the very bottom of the league’s turnover percentage rankings. The C’s could go a long way to making this an easier win if they cough it up just 12 times instead of, say, 16; fewer turnovers means more shot attempts for the good guys and two or three fewer fast-break chances for an offensively challenged team such as the Clips.
PLAYER/S WHO MAKE ME WORRY:
* Eric Gordon. A physical two-guard with a beautiful three-point touch, Gordon has his field-goal percentage up to 46 percent (and 37 percent from three) after missing nine games earlier in the season. He will make Ray Allen work hard all night on defense.
* Chris Kaman. Perk may be emerging as one of the top three defensive centers in the league (along with Dwight Howard and Tim Duncan), but he rarely faces a player quite like Kaman. The pasty one is putting up a 20-9 so far this season, and he can score on jumpers, screen/rolls and weird post-up moves—with both hands. A handful.
* Mardy Collins. He may not even get in the game, but the guy seems to have random outbursts against Boston.
PLAYER/S WHO DO NOT MAKE ME WORRY:
* Baron Davis. Sacrilegious, I know. The guy does have a Player Efficiency Rating of 18.5 and can destroy an opponent if he gets rolling in the post or if his jumper his on. But his jumper is almost never on anymore. And Rajon Rondo should be able to get by him easily.
* Blake Griffin. Sorry.
WHAT WE WANT TO SEE FROM THE C’s TONIGHT:
* Rajon Rondo attacking in the half court. He’s getting better and better as a scoring option in the half court, where most of this game will likely be played (both the Clips and the C’s play at slow paces). Tonight he again faces a team with a point guard who can’t stay with him on the dribble and an elite shot-blocker (Camby) waiting to help from the weak side.
* Ray Allen shooting well. Eric Gordon is a stout dude, but he’s 6’3”, meaning Ray will have some nice sight lines when either Gordon or Davis is guarding him.
* More of the same from KG, Perk, Tony Allen and the team’s defense.
This feels like a tough game, with or without Pierce. But the C’s have been killer on the road (13-1), and they’ll find a way to win a tight one. C’s 94, Clips 91.