The Celtics didn’t play well, but they did play hard. For Brad Stevens, that was enough, for at least one night.
With a little more pep in their step, the Celtics did the same thing Wednesday against the Los Angeles Clippers that they had in the previous five games against a variety of opponents: They lost. They fell to a better team with a better collection of NBA talent on its own home floor, and as much as it pains Stevens to lose, it was a defeat he could live with.
Perhaps the listless efforts of the last two games finally got to the players. Stevens wouldn’t hold them back if it had.
“I hope so,” Stevens told reporters in L.A. after his team’s 111-105 loss. “I told them in the locker room, I can live with that focused effort. Obviously, to come in here and win you’re going to have to make more than 5 of 17 from three. You’re going to have to not turn the ball over 18 times. You’re going to have to do a few more little things. But we got into a defensive rhythm in the third quarter that I haven’t seen us get into very often, and hopefully we can build off that.”
The Celtics (13-23) were roundly beaten, surrendering more than 111 points for the third straight game, sending the Clippers (25-13) to the line for 39 free throws and committing the 18 turnovers Stevens mentioned. Even when Jerryd Bayless missed a layup with eight seconds left that could have cut the deficit to two points, the Clippers never really seemed in danger of losing.
Yet while this was an acceptable win for the Clippers, it was also an encouraging loss for the Celtics. Boston won the rebounding battle 45-37 and dominated points in the paint 52-30. If the Celtics had been able to hit anything beyond the arc, the end result might have been different. Even the 24 fast-break points they surrendered were a small victory; after giving up 18 fast-break points in the first quarter, they gave up just six the rest of the way.
Of course, it’s still a loss. Up next is the Golden State Warriors, who were red-hot before ending their own lengthy road trip with a loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday. The Warriors have the potential to shoot holes into the Celtics’ defense — not to mention, shoot down Stevens’ newfound optimism.
“We were ready emotionally to compete, so that’s a positive,” Stevens told reporters. “Now, we’ve got to build on it. We’ve got to play like that again.”
Reverting to form
A couple of guys who have performed outside their normal production areas came back to the mean, one in a good way, the other not so much.
Jeff Green scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to record his first double-double of the season. Yes, a guy who once had 13 double-doubles in a single season as a power forward with the Oklahoma City Thunder needed 36 games to get his first this season. So now that’s out of the way.
On the flip side, Jordan Crawford‘s devolution continues. Although 24 points and eight assists might look good on the stat sheet, shooting 7-for-17 and committing five turnovers in the process throws some cold water on it. A lot of Crawford’s baskets were lucky makes off bad shots, too, and he was bailed out by the whistle often, leading to 11 free throw attempts.
The longer the Celtics go without Rajon Rondo, the more evident it becomes that Crawford playing point guard for an extended stretch is untenable. It’s not quite as rocky as Avery Bradley manning the spot, but when the games get tight and execution becomes paramount, Crawford becomes more likely to go off the reservation. If any single player can be pointed at as a reason for the Celtics losing nine of their last 10 games, it’s Crawford, who is shooting 29.5 percent on 3-pointers since the beginning of December.
Blake Griffin was tremendous against the Celtics, posting 29 points and six rebounds to supply more evidence that he belongs alongside Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge in the discussion of the best power forwards in the game. Just as impressive as the raw numbers was the way he got them. He got to the line for 17 free throws, dished out eight assists and needed just 14 shots to score nearly 30 points. But he also got into a tussle with his opposite number, as he often does.
Griffin drew a flagrant-one foul when Jared Sullinger fouled Griffin hard to prevent him from scoring early in the fourth quarter. Sullinger was aware that Griffin had baptized Kris Humphries with a dunk earlier in the game. Griffin (and the referees) were aware Sullinger had been whistled for two flagrant fouls the night before, although one was rescinded by the league before Wednesday’s game.
Anyway, Griffin reacted obstinately to the contact, as usual, just as he had earlier when he drew a charge on Crawford and briefly pinned Crawford’s legs to the floor.
Griffin’s schtick is not gamesmanship, and it’s not simply flopping, although he does a lot of that, too. There is an attitude to the way Griffin reacts to contact, an entitled whiny-ness that is indignant at the idea that anybody would dare touch him, The Great Blake Griffin, who can jump over Kia Optimas and dunk in a single bound. And it’s unbearable.