Stage is set for Celtics, Clippers

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Stage is set for Celtics, Clippers

As you read this, Im on a flight out west to witness the most significant game in CelticsClippers history. And while that might sound like hyperbole, and might also say more about this "rivalry" than it does the actual, long-term significance of tonights game, the original statement is absolutely true. Tonight is the night.

Theres never been more on the line between these two teams.

For the Clippers, its a 14-game winning streak the longest in franchise history, and the longest the NBA has seen since the Celtics ripped off 19 straight in the fallwinter of 2008. For the Cs, its momentum. A chance to build on their Christmas victory and make a statement against the undisputed hottest team in the league; a bona fide contender in the stacked Western Conference.

Of course, the Celtics are no strangers to big games in LA. Since the Staples Center opened its doors in 1999, some of Boston's most significant victories

and crushing defeats have unfolded on the same floor that they'll grace tonight. So many times before this, they've arrived in LA for an enormous contest, and gone through the same song and dance that they will today. But this time, once they arrive at the arena, everything will be different. The colors, the celebrities, the history, the rivalry. It will be simultaneously familiar and altogether foreign. It's prime time. TNT. EVERYTHING TO PROVE IN LA.

Just against the Clippers.

And as weird as that feels, what are you going to do? This is what happens. Time goes on. Things change. We now live in an NBA world where the Clippers and Knicks are atop the standings in their respective conferences. Where the Grizzlies and Warriors are in contention out West, the Nets are doing the same in the East, and the Timberwolves are an up-and-coming threat. While the Clips were the one franchise that you might expect to never experience this kind of prolonged resurgence, every dog has his day. Especially when that dog is fortunate enough to land a superstar with the No. 1 pick, trade for the best point guard in the league, steal a potential franchise center in the second round and use that foundation to install a winning culture and persuade an unbelievable supporting cast to come join the fun.

Truth be told, for all the talk this summer about how the Celtics might be the deepest team in the NBA, through two months it's the Clippers who can justifiably make that claim. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Caron Butler and (ahem!) Willie Green give them a starting five that can hang with anyone, and one that's complimented by a bench that's led by Jamal Crawford (the former Sixth Man of the Year, who's averaging 16.5 points a night and likely headed to his first All-Star game), Eric Bledsoe (a strong and quick, instant energy PG, who will be a starter in this league before long), Matt Barnes (the quintessential bench guy on a great NBA team) and Lamar Odom (who showed up for camp looking like a manatee, but who is getting in shape and finally earning his keep).

Make no mistake. These guys are good. Real good. As a result, while I somewhat jokingly refer to tonight as the most important game in ClippersCeltics history, the Cs are the team with much more on the line. Even though it's early, the Clippers have already proved their worth this season, with two wins over the Spurs, as well as victories against Miami, Memphis, Atlanta and on the road against the Lakers. Meanwhile, Bostons Christmas Day win over Brooklyn was only their second real significant win of the year and came against a Nets team in their biggest slump of the season. Afterwards, Doc Rivers told reporters that the Celtics are close to becoming a good team again and while, in a perfect world, they'd have both Avery Bradley and Chris Wilcox in the the line-up, tonight offers Boston an immediate chance to back up their coach's encouraging words.

In an arena with which they're all too familiar, against an opponent that's riding high after so many years in the gutter.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Blakely: Raptors newcomers show Celtics what they're missing

Blakely: Raptors newcomers show Celtics what they're missing

TORONTO – It’s far too soon to say if the Celtics’ decision to stand pat at the trade deadline was a mistake.
 
But the early returns aren’t encouraging.
 
Their 107-97 loss Friday night to the Toronto Raptors wasn’t because of Kyle Lowry (right wrist), who didn’t even play, or DeMar DeRozan, who played out his mind while scoring a career-high 43 points.
 
The game will be remembered by the new guys Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, both acquired at the trade deadline by the Raptors.
 
Ibaka, who was a bad fit, and on most nights a bad player, in Orlando, looked like the O-K-C Ibaka while scoring 15 points to go with seven rebounds against the Celtics – numbers that were better than his two games combined against the Celtics this season with the Magic when he scored a total of just 12 points while grabbing eight rebounds.
 
And then there was Tucker, who got a crash video course on Raptors playbook just hours before the game, and proceeded to show the kind of toughness at both ends of the floor that has made him one of the league’s more underrated defenders as he finished with a near double-double of nine points and 10 rebounds.
 
It was their first game with their new team, but you would have thought they had been with Toronto all season long with how seamless they seemed to fit in.
 
Ibaka draining jumpers, Tucker causing chaos defensively, while absolutely crushing the Celtics on the boards...their play was a painful reminder of what could have been for the Green team.
 
Both were rumored to have been in the Celtics’ crosshairs prior to the Thursday 3 p.m. trade deadline. The Celtics were lukewarm at best on Ibaka (they didn’t want what would have been a 25-game rental) and just couldn’t quite strike a deal and cross the finish line for Tucker.
 
It’s too soon to hit the panic button and rip Danny Ainge for not getting a minor deal done like adding Tucker or Ibaka.
 
Still, his players have to embrace the truth behind what transpired this trade season.
 
Ainge went big-game hunting, focusing most of the team's efforts on landing a major difference-maker, a la Jimmy Butler or Paul George.
 
When that didn’t work out, he settled for the next best thing, which was to keep this group together.
 
The onus is now on them to prove that trust Ainge has in them, was well-placed.
 
Putting too much stock in the first game after the break is a risky proposition that no one should subscribe to.
 
But in the loss, it revealed many of the concerns and weaknesses of this roster that tend to get magnified in defeat while glossed over when they manage to win despite those flaws.
 
Isaiah Thomas may be the best scorer in the fourth quarter, but he’s human.
 
There will be games when Mr. Fourth Quarter can’t get it done.
 
Friday night was that kind of game for him. He scored just four of his team-high 20 points in the fourth.
 
And as the Raptors blitzed him repeatedly with two and three defenders, his teammates failed to step up when the opportunity was there to make impactful, game-altering plays down the stretch.
 
Watching the Celtics’ defense in the second half was painful.
 
DeRozan got whatever he wanted, when he wanted it.
 
And when he missed, the Raptors controlled the boards, got all the 50/50 balls and repeatedly out-worked Boston.
 
It exposed Boston in a way that’s painful to see, especially when those inflicting the greatest amount of damage could have been in the Celtics huddle and not the one on the other sideline.
 
 

Hardy: 'Celtics haven't reached that next level status'

Hardy: 'Celtics haven't reached that next level status'

Greg Hardy, Chris Mannix, and Glenn Ordway discuss what the Celtics should have done before the trade deadline, and what they need to do in the offseason in order to reach the next level in playoffs.