Celtics-Clippers Live: Paul Pierce’s Clutch Shot Clinches Fourth Straight Victory

Paul PierceFinal, Celtics 106-104: Thanks to a meaningless three by Jamal Crawford at the buzzer, this is a two-point victory for the Celtics. In a way that is fitting, since it shows better how badly the Celtics let a huge lead get away.

Paul Pierce led the way with 22 points as the Celtics almost saw a 19-point lead completely evaporate. His clutch step-back 3-pointer with two seconds left clinched the win, which stretched Boston’s win streak to four games.

Eric Bledsoe and Jamal Crawford each scored 23 points for the Clippers, who have now lost five out of seven without Chris Paul.

Fourth quarter, :02.5, Celtics 106-101: Vinny Del Negro gets criticized for his coaching often, and the last possession just added to the argument. Down two with 26 seconds to go, the Clippers curiously did not try to foul. Instead, Pierce ran the clock down and drilled a game-clinching three with two seconds left.

Fourth quarter, :26.6, Celtics 103-101: The crowd has woken up at just the right time. After the Celtics could not track down a brick by Bledsoe, the ball found its way back to him for a three.

The Celtics answered with a miss by Terry, and Crawford dug in on an iso against Bradley. Bradley stood his ground when Crawford lowered his shoulder, though, and drew the offensive foul as the crowd — or the crowd noise pumped in, if you’re Marv Albert — roared.

Fourth quarter, 1:09, Celtics 103-98: Terry’s first season in Boston has been a disappointment so far because he has not hit many of the momentum-changing, drought-halting shots he hit for years in Dallas.

He just hit one of those shots.

With the shot clock winding down, Terry drilled a needed jump shot from the elbow to give the Celts the slightest bit of breathing room.

Fourth quarter, 2:16, Celtics 101-98: Few leads are as tenuous as a three-point edge when Crawford is on the floor. He tried to tie it up by taking an absurd, off-balance 26-footer over Lee, which missed badly.

Still, since Crawford has hit more ridiculous shots in his career, the Garden crowd had their hearts in their throats. The Celtics have tried to get too fancy, leading to potentially fatal turnovers.

Lee and Pierce both had poor passes picked off by trying to find teammates in the lane with fancy dishes. As we have noted before, the Celtics need to keep things simple now that they do not have Rajon Rondo to direct their offense.

Fourth quarter, 3:44, Celtics 100-96: Here we go. It is a four-point game after Pierce allowed Crawford to release behind him for an open-floor layup. The Celtics just cannot do things the easy way.

Fourth quarter, 5:27, Celtics 100-94: There will be no early exit or easy win for the Celtics here. It is a six-point game thanks to Jamal Crawford and a suddenly spry Los Angeles team. They are forcing the Celtics into contested jumpers or wild reverse layups.

Fourth quarter, 9:12, Celtics 98-86: The Celtics would be well-served to put this out of reach so they can get Garnett off the court for good. Griffin and Barnes are starting to get into it with the Celtics big man, as they tend to do with every opposing frontcourt player.

The physical play led to a technical foul on Garnett for swinging an elbow at Griffin, then Barnes gave Garnett an extra shoulder jerk as Garnett walked to the bench and the referees’ backs were turned.

Garnett is far from innocent in all this, of course. He went down hard after being screened by Barnes, drawing a flagrant foul, but upon review the officials decided to downgrade it to a regular foul. This is the second time in the game that Bill Kennedy’s crew has — rightly — avoided overreacting to a hard, but not flagrant, foul.

End of third quarter, Celtics 92-77: Barbosa had to strike a pose after hitting one of the goofiest shots this game has produced. With the buzzer about to sound, Barbosa shot a double-pump floater from the foul line that nestled into the cup as time expired. Barbosa landed and held his hand out long enough for Terry to come dap him up.

It’s that type of afternoon for the Celtics. Heading into the final 12 minutes, the Celtics are shooting 53 percent from the field and are only three points off their per-game scoring average.

Third quarter, 2:46, Celtics 78-64: Everybody is in foul trouble. Garnett, Bradley, Griffin and Jordan each has four personal fouls, while Collins, Bledsoe and Odom each has three. The teams have combined to shoot 37 free throws so far.

The more fouls that are called, the more it works in Boston’s favor. The Clippers are the fifth-worst foul shooting team in the NBA, with Jordan and Griffin so bad, it borders on negligence. The Clips are 10-for-16 from the line in this game. The Celts are 18-for-21.

Pierce, who was relatively quiet in the first half, has gotten into a rhythm. The Celtics’ captain now has a game-high 18 points as he gets back to being the scorer Rivers wants him to be.

Third quarter, 8:48, Celtics 64-48: The starters are back in to begin the second half, and that started out as trouble for the Celtics. A couple of Griffin dunks and the Clippers were suddenly back within 11 points, creating some worry about another big blown lead by the Celtics. But the Celtics went to a bread-and-butter play to free Bass on a pick-and-pop, then Pierce tracked down a miss by Garnett, dribbled out to the corner and canned a trey. The Clips just cannot seem to find consistent enough defense to make a serious push.

Halftime, Celtics 59-40: The Celtics have smelled blood, and they went in for the kill in the second quarter. They held the Clips, whose offense has totally ground to a halt, to only 10 points in the frame, and forced them to go into the last two minutes before cracking double-digits.

The Celtics are making them look just as lost defensively. Thanks to a balanced attack that leaves the Clippers without any clue where the next shot is coming from, the Celtics notched seven fastbreak points in the second quarter to open up their largest lead of the game.

Terry and Green lead the scoring with nine points each. Everyone in a white jersey who has logged time has scored, and the Celtics are shooting 53 percent from the field. If the Celtics can just continue to build on this, we can all get out of here early and head to our Super Bowl parties.

Second quarter, 5:28, Celtics 45-34: An all-over-the-place style should benefit the Clippers, but they are struggling to keep pace with the frenetic Celtics. Barnes in particular has surprisingly struggled to find his way into the flow offensively, even though he is being defending by the much smaller Terry. Barnes, usually a good finisher and corner 3-point shooter, actually overshot a three, to the delight of the crowd.

Second quarter, 8:41, Celtics 37-30: It goes without saying that the Clips are not as good without Paul, but it is shocking just how much worse they really are. They are still getting shots at the hoop, but it is much less fluid and much more a result of haphazard dribbling and crashing the offensive boards.

For those of you who are statheads, the numbers reveal just how big the drop-off is. The Clips score 10 full points less per 100 possessions with Paul off the court, although they are also much better defensively without him. Still, that defensive improvement does not make up for the loss of his great abilities in running an offense.

End of first quarter, Celtics 33-30: The helter-skelter offense provided by Leandro Barbosa and Jason Terry is once again bearing fruit. That unit propelled the Celtics into the lead in Friday’s win over the Magic, and it has done the same against the Clips.

Jeff Green, who seems to enjoy that style as much as the two uptempo guards, capitalized with an early 3-pointer to get him into an offensive rhythm. Even Jason Collins, who is relied upon mostly for his defense and screen setting, has chipped in four points to tie his season high.

First quarter, 5:17, game tied 17-17: Two of the league’s best at getting under opponents’ skin are facing off here, so it is no surprise they are getting under each other’s skin early. Garnett and Griffin have been banging and yapping, and the Clippers forward quickly fell into KG’s trap. Griffin extended his hand into Garnett’s face twice while trying to establish position in the high post, and the second one got him whistled for an offensive foul.

Even if Garnett won that battle, the Clippers may be winning the war of attrition on the court. Brandon Bass has a very tough matchup with the long and athletic Jordan, who has snuck behind the Boston power forward for a couple of dunks already.

First quarter, 9:41, Clippers 11-6: Chris Paul is sidelined, but the Clippers are still having no trouble generating dunks. Griffin, Butler and Jordan have slams as the Clips are getting to the rim at will. Fortunately for the Celtics, they are just as hot. The teams have combined to hit the first seven shot attempts in this game.

12:25 p.m.: Now that the Celtics’ roster is down to just 11 players, murmurs of the Celtics’ need to add bodies have overtaken discussion of their current three-game win streak. Greg Oden, the former No. 1 overall draft pick whose career has never really gotten off the ground due to injuries, met with the Celtics on Saturday.

The meeting created some noise among Celtics fans, but the team cautioned that is was just an informal meeting. Celtics coach Doc Rivers even said hello, but he downplayed the significance of the encounter on Sunday. “I’m thinking about the Clippers,” Rivers said.

That is a good thing, because despite leading the Pacific Division, the Clips are ripe for an upset. They are 2-4 without Chris Paul, who has a bruised right kneecap, and sixth man Jamal Crawford is a game-time decision. The projected starting lineups appear below.

Clippers
DeAndre Jordan
Blake Griffin
Caron Butler
Willie Green
Eric Bledsoe

Celtics
Kevin Garnett
Brandon Bass
Paul Pierce
Courtney Lee
Avery Bradley

8 a.m. ET: Not every team responds to the loss of a star point guard as positively as the Celtics have. The Celtics (23-23), who are 3-0 without Rajon Rondo, host the Pacific-leading Clippers (34-14), who are struggling while Chris Paul recovers from a bruised right kneecap. The Clips are 2-4 since Paul went down, not including the loss in which Paul was injured. They have fallen to just two games ahead of third-place Memphis in the Western Conference standings after Friday’s embarrassment of a loss in Toronto. Adding to Los Angeles’ problems, NBA Sixth Man of the Year frontrunner Jamal Crawford has a nasal fracture and will be a game-time decision.

Meanwhile, the Celtics have responded to the season-ending injuries to Rondo and rookie forward Jared Sullinger about as well as coach Doc Rivers could hope. They are actually sharing the ball more without their top passer and have played exactly even on the glass in their last two games despite not having their top rebounder off the bench.

Join us for updates and analysis from the TD Garden during the game, which tips off at 1 p.m. ET.

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