By A.Sherrod Blakely
LOS ANGELES There may be a couple of new faces to the Boston Celtics roster, but this team's identity remains the same.
No matter how many All-Stars and future Hall of Famers Boston trots out to the floor, this team's defensive DNA is alive and well.
We saw that in the second of Boston's 99-92 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
After spending most of the first half trailing, the C's (42-15) opened the third quarter with a 12-4 run capped off by a 20-foot jumper from one of the new guys - Nenad Krstic - that gave the Celtics a 52-51 lead, a lead the C's refused to relinquish.
"It was a great first day," said Paul Pierce.
Especially when you consider how down in the dumps the C's were just a couple nights ago following the unexpected trade that netted Jeff Green and Krstic from Oklahoma City, but also shipped out Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson.
In separate trades, Boston also sent Semih Erden and Luke Harangody to Cleveland, and Marquis Daniels to the Sacramento Kings.
With a third of the team traded away on Thursday, there was a sense that those moves were at work in explaining Boston's slow start on Saturday night against the Clippers.
That's not how coach Doc Rivers saw things.
"The Clippers played harder in the first half," Rivers said. "They got to all the loose balls and they created turnovers. They just played with more zip and more energy."
We have seen the C's do that from time to time this season, even when they were intact.
But for veterans such as Pierce, he admitted that the "shockwaves" experienced on Thursday were still being felt in the hours that followed.
"When the trade happened, we're suffering from the shockwaves," Pierce said. "We picked everything up; put the pieces back together, and hopefully we can get it going."
The Celtics certainly did in the second half on Saturday, primarily because they relied on what Boston does better than most teams - defend.
The C's renewed focus on defense saw a quick turnaround that proved to be more than enough to put away the Clippers, who were led by a game-high 32 points from Randy Foye along with 21 points and 11 rebounds from Blake Griffin.
Griffin was among the Clippers to recognize the Celtics brought a different level of basketball, especially on the defensive end of the floor, in the third quarter.
"They picked up their intensity," Griffin said. "They got to take advantage of some turnovers and they made shots."
More than anything else, it was a Celtics team that essentially made up its mind to not just play better, but to take over and dominate.
"You could see us getting into the game," Rivers said. "Our defense turned up, we got stops and we ran. With the bigs we have, we can run now."
And that running allows the Celtics to attack the paint, which on Saturday meant getting to the free throw line a season-high 41 times.
But Saturday's game wasn't about getting to the line, or necessarily getting used to the new guys.
It was about the Boston Celtics sticking to doing what they do best, and that's defend at a high level.
And that will not change, regardless of who is and isn't playing for the Celtics.
"We still have to keep our eyes on the prize," Pierce said. "It's to win a championship. We can't lose our focus from that."