LOS ANGELES-Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas was doing what he pretty much wanted to do. The Clippers’ offense had hit a stagnant train, going nowhere in the slow-churning quicksand called the first half of an NBA regular season basketball game played at Staples Center.
The second half came and the Clippers seemingly went from average play to bad play, falling behind to the jitterbug Thomas and the Celtics by 13 points with just a shade under five minutes to go in the third quarter. This is was not looking good for the home team.
The Staples Center crowd, split just about evenly in the noise and loyalty department when it came down to Celtics fans and those rooting for the Clippers, began to get a bit restless.
Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford felt the itch to settle everything down. And they did in a big way. The last time the Clippers played at home, James Harden and the Houston Rockets mopped the floor with them in a blowout loss. Griffin and Crawford saw to it that scenario was not going to happen against the tough, re-branded Celtics.
Crawford went off for all nine of his third quarter points (three 3-pointers) in the last 4:35 of the period, and Griffin turned into Mr. Muscle to score six of his 10 points in the period to jumpstart the stuck-in-the-mud Clippers’ offense. The Clippers wound up overtaking the Celtics in a flurry of points in the thirds quarter (32) and didn’t look back.
Griffin’s driving layup with 47 seconds in the period gave the Clippers (38-25) the lead for good as Los Angeles finished the quarter with a 75-71 lead. The Celtics didn’t know what hit them. Shaken by the Clippers’ scoring ambush at the end of the third quarter, the Celtics found themselves simply overwhelmed in the fourth period.
“In the third quarter, the Clippers went on that run,” Boston guard Marcus Smart said. “They were coming down and executing, they were getting leak-outs. Shots hit the rim, they got dunks and lay-ups and that hurt us.”
Just in case the Celtics might have thought that the third quarter barrage was a fluke, the Clippers hit the men in green with a 41-point scoring outburst in the final period to cruise to a 116-102 win.
“We’ve been better,” Griffin said. “In the second half, we’ve been better. But’s it’s about putting [it] together for four full quarters, 48 minutes or as close to it as possible. Against really good teams, a bad half gets you beat. You can’t win a game in the first quarter or in the first half, but you can lose one.”
With their comeback victory in tow, the Clippers evened the regular series against the Celtics (40-24) after falling in defeat to Boston last month.Crawford said he felt the game change when he nailed a three-point shot that sort of sparked the Clippers’ rally.
“I would say the moment was in the second half, the three [pointer] in the corner,” Crawford said. “That was the shot you work on and you make it when nobody’s watching, so that was the shot. And then from there it was like ‘Oh, it’s on.’ And my teammates and coaching staff, you give them credit too, because they saw it and they were like, ‘Ok, just go.’ And then from there, I just tried to go, and my team, they really got into it and it was a total team effort.”
After going flat in their last home loss, the Clippers got solid outings from Griffin (26 points, eight rebounds), Chris Paul (23 points), DeAndre Jordan (15 points, 12 rebounds) and Crawford (19 points). With Thomas going off for 32 points, the Clippers quartet offset the Boston’s star performance with their blistering 73-point second half.
“I think we were gambling,” Thomas said in reference to the Celtics’ third quarter meltdown. “We weren’t moving the ball as well and he [Jamal Crawford] got going. It was unfortunate, with how well we were playing the entire game and then to have a stretch like that, where we weren’t able to score and we were gambling in the backcourt. We could go down the list. We weren’t playing the way we know we need to play in order to win games.”
The Clippers did in the Celtics by shooting 53 percent from the field for the entire game. But what really scorched Boston was the Clippers’ fourth quarter. Los Angeles shot 81 percent from the field, connecting on 13 of 16 shots taken. While the Clippers’ offense excelled, it was the team’s defense that got the ball rolling, said Clippers coach Doc Rivers.
“I thought again it was our defense,” Rivers said after the game. “Like I said before the other night, we held them to 33 and we scored a lot of points, but we’re missing the defensive part. I thought they outplayed us in the second half. They were more physical. And then I thought we turned that, and we became the more physical team in the second half. But that second unit was great, and we stuck with them for a long time. That was good for us, too. Anytime we can win a game and get guys down in minutes, it is never a bad thing.”