After a long, grueling six-game road trip, the Clippers are finally back at STAPLES Center tonight vs the Boston Celtics. Check out our full Clippers vs Celtics game preview below:
Clippers vs Celtics Game Information
When: 7:00 PM Pacific
Where: STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
How to Watch: ESPN, Fox Sports West
Boston Celtics: Kemba Walker – Jaylen Brown – Jayson Tatum – Daniel Theis – Tristan Thompson
LA Clippers: Reggie Jackson – Paul George – Kawhi Leonard – Nicolas Batum – Serge Ibaka
Boston Celtics: Jaylen Brown – QUESTIONABLE (left knee soreness), Romeo Langford – OUT (right wrist surgery), Payton Pritchard – QUESTIONABLE (right MCL sprain), Marcus Smart – OUT (left calf tear)
LA Clippers: Jay Scrubb – OUT (foot surgery), Patrick Beverley – OUT (right knee soreness)
The Big Picture
The Clippers have to feel good after going 4-2 on their 6-game road trip, including splitting a pair of games with both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard sidelined. They’re neck-and-neck with the Jazz and Lakers atop the Western Conference, several role players are finding themselves in the team’s new system, and it really feels like good vibes all around.
They’re going to need those vibes as they enter a much tougher stretch of schedule in February, kicking off in this game against the Boston Celtics. In the next 30 days, they’ll see the Heat again, the Jazz twice, the Nets again, the Milwaukee Bucks, and then face off against these Celtics the second time–that’s a lot of high-level playoff teams in a one-month span.
The first game back from a long road trip can be particularly brutal, as fatigue from the travel catches up to you after the last flight of the trip back to Los Angeles. Have you ever had a crazy week where you ride through on adrenaline and then feel sick as soon as you let your body take a break and sleep in Saturday morning? Coming back to LA after 6 games in 5 cities in 9 days can have a similar effect. I was worried on Wednesday that the long road trip would catch up to the Clippers and cause them to struggle to keep up their energy for 48 minutes–I’m worried about that again tonight.
The Boston Celtics are really good, but they might be a shell of themselves in Los Angeles tonight. Marcus Smart, Boston’s third-best player, is in the midst of an extended absence due to a calf injury. Jaylen Brown, their second-best player, is questionable. Kemba Walker, an important offensive weapon, has struggled immensely to start his season after missing the team’s first 11 games with a knee injury. And between Walkers’ unavailability and struggles, Jeff Teague’s mostly disastrous play, and injuries to Marcus Smart, Payton Pritchard, and Romeo Langford, the Celtics have struggled with spotty guard rotations for much of the season.
Despite that, the Celtics have still been good this season. They’re 4th in the Eastern Conference at 11-9 with an above-average offense, above-average defense, and top-10 net rating. And they have a legitimately elite superstar duo with Tatum and Brown. Tatum isn’t a surprise–he’s already established himself–but Brown has really taken a leap so far this season and is now averaging 26.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.3 steals per game while shooting 51.8% from the field and 42.4% from three. Everything there except for rebounds is a career high by a significant margin.
It’s around that duo that Brad Stevens still has some work to do–work that will get easier when Walker and Smart are both fully healthy and back to their normal selves. Boston’s next two most reliable role players are big men Daniel Theis and Tristan Thompson, both of whom are plus defenders with Theis spacing the floor as a 40% three point shooter and Thompson leading the team’s rebounding efforts. That six-man core is really, really solid, but losing Gordan Hayward in free agency really hurt the Celtics’ perimeter depth as they now rely heavily on a cast of players in their 20s who haven’t quite proven themselves as contributors to playoff teams yet. It’s good, of course, that Boston has drafted a slate of solid players in recent years–it’s just that those are guys you’d probably rather have a little lower in your rotation until they properly break out, rather than relying on them to play significant minutes without alternatives.
Clippers vs Celtics Game Notes
- Low-Volume Shooting: The Celtics play some of the lowest-volume three-point shooting games in the NBA, as they’re 24th in the NBA in three point attempts per game while holding their opponents to the 5th-fewest attempts per game. The Clippers like to keep opponents from shooting threes, so they’ll be happy if the Celtics don’t take a ton of looks from beyond the arc, but they’re the best three-point shooting team in the NBA on their own shots. If Boston can keep the Clippers from getting a lot of threes up, LA’s offense could be held in check, but if the Clippers are able to buck that trend, they’ll likely run away with this one.
- Two Bigs: Ty Lue has been reluctant to play Serge Ibaka and Ivica Zubac together this season, even in games where the Clippers were shorthanded at power forward or facing an opponent who plays two big men. But it’s worth noting that the Celtics, for lack of better options, typically start Theis and Thompson together and play stretches with both big men on the floor. I’m not expecting Lue to really go for it tonight, but it’s definitely got to be worth a look at some point in the regular season just so the Clippers are comfortable with it as a situational lineup when the playoffs come around. With both guys playing well of late, it might be time.
- Reggie: In the last 6.5 games since Patrick Beverley got hurt, Reggie Jackson has taken over starting point guard duties (he’s started 6 games in a row and played 20 second-half minutes two weeks ago against OKC when Beverley wasn’t available after halftime). He’s had some really nice outings–not even “good for an injury replacement starter,” just straight-up good starting NBA point guard play–against Oklahoma City, Atlanta, and the Knicks. And he had some solid, if unspectacular, outings against Miami and Orlando. But he was a mix of bad and unimpactful in the Clippers’ last two contests against Brooklyn and Cleveland, which might be concerning as those were the two best opponents the full-strength Clippers lineup has seen since Reggie’s been in it. On balance, he’s still done a great job filling in for Pat, but his highs and lows open up a wide range of outcomes for the team.
- Grudge Match: There’s no real rivalry between these teams, and even the bit of tension after Doc Rivers left the Celtics for the Clippers is now gone. But, these two squads played two excellent, hotly contested games last season: a double overtime victory for the Celtics in Boston and an overtime victory for the Clippers in Los Angeles. If Brown misses this game in addition to Smart’s absence, you’d expect the Clippers to have a significant advantage. But if he plays, these are two good teams with star power who could give us another classic.
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