The Clippers, fresh off a win in Toronto last night, will have maybe their toughest game of the season tonight in Boston against the dominant Celtics.
Where: TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
When: 4:00 PM PT
How to Watch: Bally Sports SoCal, AM 570
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: James Harden – Paul George – Terance Mann – Kawhi Leonard – Ivica Zubac
Celtics: Derrick White – Jrue Holiday – Jaylen Brown – Jayson Tatum – Al Horford
Clippers: Paul George Probable (Groin), Ivica Zubac Out (Calf), Moussa Diabate Out (Hand), Jordan Miller Doubtful (Achilles)
Celtics: Kristaps Porzingis Doubtful (Ankle)
The Big Picture
The Clippers have worked their way into a virtual tie for 3rd in the Western Conference with the Nuggets. They are still just a single loss back of the first-seeded Thunder and Wolves. They’ve not just stayed afloat with starting center and defensive anchor Ivica Zubac out, but have made up ground. They are continuing to receive consistently positive performances from nearly every rotation player on the roster, with star showings nightly from Kawhi, Paul George, and James Harden. It’s a fun, winning group that has taken care of business against bad teams and also gotten some tough wins against good teams. How they perform on this lengthy road trip against a mix of some of the best and worst teams in the NBA will be telling.
The Boston Celtics have been the best team in the NBA almost the entire season. Their 35-10 record is three games ahead of the second-best squad, the OKC Thunder. Their 10.2 Net Rating is the best in the NBA by far (Thunder is next with 8.7), with the second-best Offensive Rating (behind only the Pacers) and second-best defense (behind the Wolves). The Sixers are the only other team with a top-five placement on both offense and defense, and they’re fifth in both. Jayson Tatum is an All-Star Starter and Jaylen Brown will make the All-Star Game as a reserve – yet I’d argue he’s the 4th best player on the team behind Derrick White and Kristaps Porzingis! The Celtics’ top six is the best in the NBA. Their depth is shaky, but has been good enough in the regular season. The Celtics are also an insane 20-1 at home. This might be the toughest game of the year for the Clippers.
Take Advantage of KP’s Likely Absence: Kristaps Porzingis has been the second or third most important Celtic this season. His rim protection has been key to their defense and his high-volume, deep three-point shooting stretches the floor for their perimeter players. Al Horford remains very good, but he’s not a high-minutes player at this point, which means the Clippers will see a good amount of Luke Kornet or Neemias Queta at center for the Celtics. Those guys are fine role players, but they are not Porzingis or Horford. The Clippers need to attack the rim consistently in this one, especially when Horford isn’t on the court for the Celtics. On defense, without Porzingis stretching the court, they can play a bit more conservatively in drop and try to force Brown and Tatum into long twos.
Taking the Challenge Defensively: The Celtics’ top two offensive options are both wings. The Clippers’ top two scorers are wings. It will be interesting to see how much the two star wing duos guard each other and how much they try to conserve energy by having other players on them. The Celtics have Derrick White and Jrue Holiday, who are awesome defensively, but a bit undersized, to throw at PG and Kawhi. The Clippers can put Terance Mann, Russell Westbrook, and Amir Coffey on the Tatum and Brown combo. However, I’d love to see Kawhi take on Tatum, at least in the second half, and PG on Brown. This is what high-stakes NBA games are about, and while this is an inter-conference game in January, I’m expecting intensity and a playoff level environment. Hopefully the game lives up to it.