Celtics-Clippers review: What we saw . . .


Celtics-Clippers review: What we saw . . .

LOS ANGELES The game got ugly, with defensive stops, bodies flying all over the floor and technical fouls being handed out to many - even Greg Stiemsma.

And the Boston Celtics?

They loved every minute of it.

The C's took the Clippers out of their above-the-rim game, and made it into a grind-it-out affair which clearly favored the Celtics.

With that said, it should come as no surprise that the Celtics came away with a 94-85 win.

Although the C's closed out the game with a 20-7 run, it was their defense - much more physical than we've seen in a while - that was the difference.

"Once we settled into the game, we were more physical, we pushed back, we got up in them, got in their space and made it uncomfortable for them," said Paul Pierce, who had a game-high 25 points. "This is a team that wants to be left alone; they play with a lot of finesse, high-flying team, get out in transition, lobs, all that type of stuff."

Even the usually mild-mannered Greg Stiemsma showed some physical play, with him and Clippers all-star Blake Griffin having a few run-ins, one of which resulted in both players being whistled for a technical.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Monday's game saw the "mean Stiemsma."

"You have to have flashes of it," said Stiemsma, who had two points, two rebounds and two blocked shots in 22 minutes. "You can't play mad all the time, but I'm not going to back down from anybody, either. I don't care what position or situation they're in. So if I can come in and play physical, take a shot to the mouth, a couple shots to the head, if it'll help us win I'll do it."

Boston making the game into being one that was more physical than finesses certainly worked. Let's review other factors discussed earlier, and see how they actually played out as the Celtics (22-19) rally for a much-needed win over a Clippers (23-17) squad that has now lost four of their last five games.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Celtics would love to win going away tonight, but close games seem to give the Clippers problems lately which may be as clear a sign as any that they miss Chauncey Billups who suffered a season-ending torn Achilles tendon on Feb. 6. For the season, the Clippers are 7-7 in games decided by five points or less. Since Billups' injury, the Clippers are 2-6 in such games.
WHAT WE SAW: This was yet another game that shines a bright spotlight on how much the Clippers miss Billups. Their inability to execute in the closing moments of tight games, is exactly what Billups does best. But give the Celtics credit. Defensively down the stretch, they were impressive. And if you have Pierce getting it going offensively in the fourth the way he had it tonight, the C's are an extremely tough team to beat.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Rajon Rondo vs. Chris Paul: Even before Danny Ainge tried to swap Rondo out for Paul, there wasn't a whole lot of love between these two all-stars. Rondo has the reputation - a well earned one, mind you - for stepping his game up in big, national TV-type games. But this is one of those games where the chip Rondo usually plays with, will be even bigger than usual. Why? Because he knows that Paul is a guy that the Celtics wanted, and they had no problem giving him away to do so. Get your popcorn ready, folks. This should be a good one, for sure.

WHAT WE SAW: Rondo had every reason to try and go out and prove a point, that he is better than Chris Paul. Instead of making it personal, Rondo made it a point to keep doing what he has always done a better at than Paul - winning games. C's coach Doc Rivers was not surprised at how Rondo approach the game. ""He approached it just like we thought he would," said C's coach Doc Rivers of Rondo. "He was more concerned about winning the game." When asked if there was any added fuel for tonight's game with all the Chris Paul trade rumors this summer, Rondo said, "No. I just wanted to get a win."

PLAYER TO WATCH: All of the Celtics played more minutes than usual against the Lakers, but Kevin Garnett is the one that the Celtics really need to be concerned about. You have to wonder just how much did banging with Andrew Bynum take out of KG, and whether he'll have much to offer up defensively tonight against DeAndre Jordan who doesn't have Bynum's strength, but he's no pushover, either.

WHAT WE SAW: So much for getting Garnett's minutes under control. The plan going in was to get him closer to 30 minutes played. In actuality, Garnett played about a minute less than he did on Sunday against the Lakers. Garnett had yet another strong game, scoring 21 points to go with eight rebounds in just over 34 minutes. Among his points was a 21-foot turnaround jumper with 38.4 seconds to play that essentially sealed the win.

"We went to the OG's man," said Brandon Bass, referring to the Big Four who all came up with big plays down the stretch for the Celtics. "The OG's carried us. We was on their back tonight."

STAT TO TRACK: This is one of those nights when the Celtics' best defense might be to simply foul the Clippers and send them to the free throw line. For the season, the Clippers are shooting just 69.1 percent from the free throw line which ranks 29th in the NBA. A big part of the Clippers' free throw woes is Blake Griffin, a 54.9 percent free throw shooter. He averages 7.5 free throw attempts per game which ranks sixth in the NBA.

WHAT WE SAW: Boston actually committed fewer fouls (24) than the Clippers (26), but a lot of that had to do with the Clippers intentionally fouling in the game's closing seconds in hopes of getting the ball back. And the idea of putting the Clippers on the line didn't work out quite as well as Boston would have liked. The Clippers had 21 free throw attempts and connected on 18, for an 85.7 percent free throw percentage. And Blake Griffin, a horrific free throw shooter, was a respectable 6-for-8 from the line.

'Ecstatic' Thomas was with Celtics teammates via FaceTime after Game 3 win

'Ecstatic' Thomas was with Celtics teammates via FaceTime after Game 3 win

CLEVELAND – Gone but definitely not forgotten.

Isaiah Thomas, out for the rest of the playoffs with a right hip injury, wasn’t in the Q Arena physically, but his presence – and his face via FaceTime – were inside the locker room in the initial moments following their 111-108 Game 3 win over Cleveland.

“We called him right after the game,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “He got to celebrate with us a little bit. It’s sad that he’s not here. We wish he was here with us. We just want him to get better.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens added, “I didn’t even realize that had happened until later on. one of my first text messages was from Isaiah.  He’s hurting not being out there but he’s completely invested, for sure.”

He initially suffered the injury on March 15 at Minnesota, but re-aggravated it in the first half of Boston’s Game 2 loss to the Cavs. Less than 24 hours later, Thomas was deemed out for the remainder of the playoffs.

Instead of Thomas being the rock of sorts that the Celtics lean on with his play, he has become their rallying cry for the remainder of the playoffs.

“All we can do is play hard for him,” Bradley said. “He was excited with the way we played. We’re a family. Other guys got an opportunity to step up for us. Marcus (Smart) had a big game for us. It could be somebody else next game.”

Smart led the Celtics with a career-high 27 points which included a career-best seven 3’s going down.

And most important, the Celtics avoided going down 3-0 which would have all but sealed their fate in this series considering no team in league history has ever come back for a 3-0 series deficit.

Doing so without Thomas, the Celtics’ leading scorer and the top regular season scorer in the Eastern Conference, made the win all that more impressive for Boston.

“It meant a lot,” Horford said. “We know, Isaiah gives us so much and gave us so much this year. For him, we definitely wanted to come out and fight for him and our season and our team. It felt good to keep believing despite being down big. Just felt good to win the game and bring life back to our locker room. Because going down 3-0, that’s a death sentence pretty much. This was big.”

Not only to the Celtics players but also to Thomas who also texted head coach Brad Stevens full of excitement following Boston’s surprising win.

“He was excited,” Horford recalled. “He was ecstatic. I know he wishes he was here being part of it. We just need to keep doing it for him and our group and doing the best we can.”