Paul Pierce led the Celtics (22-19) with 25 points, but it was Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass' physical defense on Blake Griffin and Rajon Rondo's stellar all-around outing that played the biggest role in the Celtics wiping out a nine-point halftime deficit to the Clippers (23-17), who dropped their third straight at home.
Rondo had 12 points and 10 assists, but the little things he did were easy to notice but difficult to explain. He challenged Chris Paul on all fronts, especially in the second half, and combined with Garnett to shut down the Clippers' feared pick-and-roll lob plays.
Fourth quarter, :16.7, Celtics 92-85: Allen returned to the Celtics bench after going to the trainer's room with a turned ankle, but the Celtics might not need him the rest of the way. Pietrus and Pierce combined to go 3-for-4 from the line to pretty much ice the game.
Fourth quarter, :22.4, Celtics 91-85: Give Garnett the nod for biggest shot thus far. KG's fallaway jumper stretched a two-point edge to four points.
Fourth quarter, :59.3, Celtics 87-84: Ten of Paul's 14 points came in the fourth quarter so far, and the CP3 and Blake Show turned up to make the Celtics sweat.
Garnett picked up his fifth foul, which is an issue with Bass already on the bench with six fouls. More importantly, the Celtics failed to run down three key would-be defensive rebounds. The last of those was a two-handed putback dunk by Griffin to pull L.A. within a basket.
Fourth quarter, 1:33, Celtics 87-80: Pietrus must be hurt more than he or the rest of the Celtics let on. The French swingman nabbed a loose ball and handed to Rondo before heading downcourt on the 2-on-1 break. Rondo found Pietrus with a bounce pass, but Air France went with a basic, slightly awkward layup rather than a dunk and landed gingerly.
Fourth quarter, 2:47, Celtics 83-78: Rondo would not be denied.
Rondo found Garnett for a layup to pull the C's within a basket, then smoked Paul around a screen for the tying layup.
Pierce will get credit for scoring five straight points after that, but Rondo's fingerprints were all over the latter. After Pierce gave Boston the lead with two free throws, Rondo drove the lane and drew the defense in. He kicked out to Pietrus, who handed to Pierce for a swished 3. Give Rondo the hockey assist on that bucket.
Fourth quarter, 4:24, Clippers 78-74: It's always the Bobby Simmonses of the world who make a bit shot, isn't it?
Griffin hit two free throws to give the Clippers their first lead since 8:22 remained in the third quarter, at 75-74. Pietrus still couldn't find the range, falling to 0-for-3 from deep and 0-for-4 shooting overall in this game, giving the ball back to L.A.
Simmons, who has had an interesting, up-and-down career, drilled a triple to put the Clippers up four points. For the second day in a row, the Celtics run the risk of letting a late lead get away after going cold on offense in the final minutes.
Fourth quarter, 5:59, Celtics 73-71: It took more than 42 minutes, but Paul finally cracked double figures in scoring. He picked a great time to do it for the Clippers, cutting the Celtics' lead to two points with just under six minutes to play.
Two free throws by Rondo, his fourth makes in four attempts, also yanked the Celtics' point guard into double figures in the scoring column. It's safe to say Rondo and Paul will determine how the rest of this game plays out.
Fourth quarter, 8:50, Celtics 71-61: Rondo's basketball IQ was on full display for the highlight of the night. After Allen had scored six straight points against a helpless yet chatty Mo Williams, Rondo had the audacity to wave Allen off. As he did, Garnett snuck behind the Clippers defense and Rondo hit him with a bullet pass for a dunk, which Evans foolishly fouled him on.
The smarts — and cojones — of Rondo to make a call like that showed exactly what type of player he is.
End of third quarter, Celtics 62-61: By hitting the glass, defending and forcing L.A. to play at a slooooooow pace, the Celtics eased back into the game in the third quarter.
Without free fastbreak points, the Clippers saw their field goal percentage drop to 39 percent. The Celtics' shooting accuracy stayed pretty consistent at 49 percent, from 50 percent in the first two quarters. The C's, unlike the Clippers, are used to that pace.
Paul finally inked his name in the score book with his deadly 18-foot jumper. Don't take Paul's scoring silence as a good omen for the Celtics. Only Kobe Bryant averages more points in the fourth quarter than Paul, a deadly (whiny) assassin.
This game is Exhibit A as to why Rondo is such an indispensible player. He will never have the skills of Paul, but he's competed as though he believes he's not only the best point guard but the best overall player on the floor.
Third quarter, 2:52, Celtics 58-54: Rondo seemed to be one of the few players not picking up a technical foul, but few players showed as much competitive fire as he did.
Rondo assisted three straight baskets that enabled the Celtics to take the lead back midway through the third quarter. One of those baskets was an alley-oop from Rondo to Bass. Jordan and Griffin contributed highlight reel dunks shortly thereafter, showing what Lob City is really all about. Sorry Bass. Your oop was nice, but Jordan and Griffin are in a different world.
Third quarter, Clippers 48-45: The Celtics made the strongest effort to get to the hoop straight out of halftime, scoring six straight points to make it a one-possession game.
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro called a timeout to rally his troops. It doesn't take long for a Clippers crowd to lose interest, so the Clips can't afford too long a lull.
Halftime, Clippers 48-39: The lobs and technical fouls drew a lot of oohs and aahs, but the Clippers' work on the boards was the biggest difference in the first half.
L.A. outrebounded Boston 23-14 and held an 11-3 edge on the offensive glass to go ahead by as many as 10 points in the second quarter. After a 3 by Pierce gave the Celtics a 33-30 lead, the Clippers scored 12 points before the Celtics next go on the scoreboard with a jumper by Stiemsma.
It would be nice if Blake Griffin would give it a rest. The immensely talented power forward is annoying to watch because there is always some sort of sideshow going on between him and an opponent. If you think it's a bit much, Celtics fans, welcome to what most other fans feel watching Kevin Garnett operate.
The Good: Griffin might never be able to hit an outside jumper or a free throw consistently, but his creativeness in the post may be enough to carry him. With only one alley-oop dunk Griffin shot 6-for-9 and scored 15 points with four rebounds, three assists and only one foul. … Mo Williams did whatever he wanted when he was covered by Ray Allen. There's simply no other way to say it. Williams scored on a variety of jumpers, floaters and 3-pointers score 14 points on just nine shots. … Rajon Rondo's best halves are often his quietest ones. The Celtics point guard had a so-so looking line of six points and four assists, but he managed to do it on 3-for-4 shooting and with only two turnovers while running a Boston offense that shot 50 percent (16 for 32). … Brandon Bass picked up three personal fouls, but he did just about everything else right. Bass hit all three of his field goal attempts and pulled down six boards while playing tight defense on Griffin. … DeAndre Jordan was a huge part of L.A.'s success, nabbing six offensive rebounds and nine rebounds overall to make up for his 1-for-5 shooting performance.
The Bad: Allen hit his only 3-point attempt, but it was also his only basket of the first half. His 1-for-6 shooting half was as big a reason as any that the Celtics struggled to score in the final seven minutes of the second quarter.
The So-so: Greg Stiemsma did not back down from Griffin, whether fighting for position in the post or taking any of Griffin's extracurricular activity.
Second quarter, 3:40, Clipers 35-33: So creative officiating is expected with teams like the Lakers, Heat, Bulls and Celtics. The Clippers would not seem to deserve that type of treatment.
The Clips were granted a few generous calls in the second quarter, though. Williams tumbled to the floor while running around a screen and Allen was incredulous when he was called for a trip. Bass seemed to have established defensive position and muscled with Griffin in the post, but Bass picked up a personal foul.
Rivers hopped out of the coach's box quickly for that an was assessed a technical foul. Rivers had a case. It was Bass' third foul.
On the basketball side, Williams hit a 3-pointer to give L.A. its first lead of the game.
Second quarter, 6:13, game tied 30-30: Four technicals in 27 seconds. That has to be close to some kind of record.
Garnett got miffed that Jordan was blocking the Celtics' shots after the whistle blew, which is hypocritical considering Garnett is the guy who popularized that move. Garnett went the extra step and tried to dunk well after the whistle, and Jordan, to his credit, wasn't having it.
The two were assessed a technical foul each, but from this vantage point only Garnett deserved one. Jordan exhibited that quality Celtics fans admire so much in Garnett: No freebies. There can't be a double standard just because the other team does it, too.
The other two techs were only defensive three-second violations.
Second quarter, 7:49, Celtics 29-27: The matchup of Reggie Evans and Stiemsma probably wasn't why the good people in the stands paid the cost of admittance, but the Iowa product got the better of the Wisconsin man early in the second quarter.
Evans spun past Stiemsma for a dunk to open the scoring in the quarter, and hustled to force a turnover and score again a few possessions later to cut the Celtics' lead to two points.
Evans is one player the Celtics will not be able to outwork.
End of first quarter, Celtics 25-21: Avery Bradley does not seem content to be known as just a good defender off the bench. The second-year point guard provided an offensive spark in the first quarter with six points. He sliced into the lane for a dunk on a handoff by Pierce, nailed a baseline jumper on a swing pass by Stiemsma, and converted two free throws.
Bradley is shooting 64.7 percent from the field in his past four games. It's a welcome wrinkle to his game from the standpoint of the Celtics, who are looking for backcourt scoring off their bench due to the disappointing offensive seasons of Keyon Dooling and Marquis Daniels.
First quarter, 2:45, Celtics 19-16: You heard it hear first. Stiemsma is going to get dunked on hard by Griffin in this game.
Don't take that as a knock on Stiemsma. Many great defensive players have been victimized by the Kia Optima pitchman. Stiemsma just seems to fit the profile of guys Griffin has put into highlights: good shot-blocker who will try to be the hero when Griffin elevates, often just a split-second late on his rotations, strong enough to stand his ground when Griffin powers through.
Griffin and Stiemsma had a bit of a moment when they picked up a double-technical foul. Griffin tried to place the ball in Stiemsma's hands after a foul, for some reason, and Stiemsma responded by tossing the ball at Griffin's back.
First quarter, 5:32, game tied 13-13: The Celtics came out with a sound strategy: Don't miss.
The Celtics hit their first five shots to take leads of 6-0, 9-2 and 11-4, but it did not take long for the Clippers to work back into a tie once the Celtics' shots stopped falling. Boston misfired on its next four field goals after their shooting spree to open the game, whil Blake Griffin showed of his versatility with a hook shot, an assist on a Randy Foye 3-pointer and a jumper on an assist by Chris Paul.
10:20 p.m.: Be on the lookout for a potential future Celtic in this game. Several reports have linked Clippers point guard Eric Bledsoe with the Celtics as the Clippers look to fill a void in their backcourt created by Chauncey Billups' season-ending left Achilles injury. Los Angeles is said to be looking for a two-guard who can stretch the defense and create space for Paul, Griffin and Jordan to operate the pick-and-roll. Ray Allen would fit that mold nicely.
Pulling off a Bledsoe-Allen deal would take some fuzzy math, though. Allen is on a $10-million, one-year option while Bledsoe, a 2010 first round draft pick, is still on his rookie deal making less than $2 million.
It's also not clear how Bledsoe, who has been limited to about seven minutes per game this season as he works back from offseason surgery on his right knee, would fit into Boston's backcourt. Bledsoe, Rondo and Avery Bradley would give the Celtics three point guards 26 years old or younger who are on the small side (Bradley is the tallest at 6-foot-2) and don't shoot well.
Maybe it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but in the event the Celtics do trade for Bledsoe, you can tell all your friends that you stayed up late that one night in March and saw the Kentucky product play. I'd say that alone makes it worth brewing up some coffee and buckling down for a long night of live blog reading.
10:10 p.m. ET: If the league hadn't intervened in a preseason trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers, according to published reports, Rajon Rondo would have faced off with the all-world point guard Sunday night.
As it was, Paul was shipped to the Clippers instead, and Rondo will get his showdown a day later.
Kevin Garnett used up a lot of fuel banging in the post with Andrew Bynum, and he'll have a different type of challenge in this one. DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin are high-fliers, although Griffin can muscle inside as well. Keep an eye on how Celtics coach Doc Rivers handles minutes for Garnett and Brandon Bass. If there were ever a night for Greg Stiemsma to shake his foul-prone ways or for JaJuan Johnson to show some moxie in the paint, this would be it.
The projected starting lineups appear below.
8 a.m. ET: The first of two consecutive games in the Staples Center didn't go so well for the Celtics, so they'll take another crack at it Monday night — late Monday night.
The Celtics take on the newly popular Clippers in Los Angeles, hoping to ground Lob City for at least one night. It will be a challenge for the lumbering Celtics to keep high fliers like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan close to the ground, but it could be a necessity to keep the Celtics from dropping two straight in this building.
Stay up late with us for updates and analysis from this game, which tips off at 10:30 p.m. ET.