BOSTON — Doc Rivers and Paul Pierce both have had plenty of success inside TD Garden. But even the head coach who brought a 17th championship to Boston emerged from Wednesday night’s thriller impressed by this current Celtics team.
The C’s came back from the brink on several occasions to force overtime and eventually defeat the Los Angeles Clippers 139-134 in a playoff-like atmosphere at the Garden. For Rivers, it was Boston’s relentless energy and effort that stood out the most.
“They just played so hard,” the Clippers head coach said. “… I thought they deserved to win.”
The victory lifted the Celtics to a 32-23 record and a firm hold on the Eastern Conference’s No. 3 seed heading into the All-Star break. Boston still is 7 1/2 games out of first place, but if you ask Rivers, who admitted he roots for his former team “all the time,” the Celtics have a chance to make some legitimate noise down the stretch.
“Yeah, they could make a run,” Rivers said. “Listen, they’re not scared of anybody. They’ve got a bunch of junkyard dogs who can play.”
There’s still plenty of NBA season left, but after winning 10 of their last 12 to enter the break, the Celtics are starting to turn some serious heads.
Let’s hit a few other notes from Celtics-Clippers:
— A big reason for the Celtics’ success was their ability to limit turnovers. After coughing the ball up 18 times Tuesday in a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the C’s committed just 10 turnovers in 53 minutes of play and zero in the overtime period.
“You’re going to have games where you turn it over a bit more or you’re going to have games where you handle it a little better, but the less turnovers we can have for our team, the better,” head coach Brad Stevens said. “I think that’s a huge indicator of whether or not we are going to be successful.”
— It wasn’t all good news for Boston, as big man Kelly Olynyk left the game in the second quarter with a bruised right shoulder. After the game, Stevens said Olynyk suffered a subluxation of his right shoulder and that he was taken to New England Baptist Hospital for X-rays.
— The silver lining for Olynyk’s injury is the timing, as the Celtics don’t play again until Feb. 19. They enter the All-Star break on quite a roll, too, especially at TD Garden, where the C’s have won eight consecutive games.
— Speaking of All-Stars, the Celtics presented Isaiah Thomas with the official Eastern Conference All-Star jersey he’ll wear in Toronto this weekend before tipoff Wednesday night. Needless to say, Thomas was pretty pumped.
“That’s like a dream come true,” Thomas said. “I couldn’t even tell nobody this story and they would really believe it’s happening right now. That’s how my life’s been. It’s, first off, a blessing from God, and it’s just something that I’ve worked so hard for and it’s finally here. I can’t wait.”
— Rivers admitted one of his most memorable moments in Boston was a loss: the team’s blowout defeat to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, where fans at TD Garden started a “Let’s go Celtics!” chant in the final seconds despite the lopsided score.
“99.9 percent of the fans would have left the arena, and our fans stood and cheered thinking this may be the end of that team,” Rivers said at Clippers shootaround Wednesday. “That was an extremely special moment. You have a chance to have a lot of special moments here, and some of them are created by the fans and not the game. And that moment was created by the fans.
“It had nothing to do with the game — we got our butts kicked. And the fans created a special moment for us because they ‘got it.’ And one thing you realize here, over any other place, in my opinion, is that the fans get it, and that’s really cool.”
Thumbnail photo via Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports Images
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