LOS ANGELES -- The Celtics knew exactly what they were missing last night at Staples Center. But in case anyone forgot, the Celtics received a painful reminder as Paul Pierce watched their 100-77 loss to the Clippers from the bench with his injured left foot still covered by a protective boot.
It had to be tough for Pierce to watch Boston shoot 32 percent and drop its fourth straight game, all without him. And judging from what transpired last night, Boston may not be able to win at all without its captain. Pierce is expected to be out at least another week. With three road games and a home date with Cleveland before Thursday, his return seems a long way away.
"It's always frustrating, especially when you want to be out there for your team," Pierce said. "You're on the sideline and you feel you can make a difference. It's tough, but these guys are getting valuable experience and that's going to be good for them."
The Celtics' fatigue in the second of back-to-back games and the cumulative toll of injuries to key players were apparent in the third quarter as the Clippers put this one away. Even reinforcements in the form of Wally Szczerbiak (sprained right ankle) and Kendrick Perkins (plantar fasciitis) were not enough to give Boston a boost defensively or offensively.
During the third, the Clippers stretched a 12-point lead to 21. It was another game in which Doc Rivers did not get the kind of consistent execution he wanted. The fourth quarter merely decided the Clippers' margin of victory.
With Szczerbiak and Perkins coming off the bench in the first quarter, the Celtics fielded as healthy a team as they have in recent weeks.
But even with its No. 2 scorer (Szczerbiak) on the floor and its defensive centerpiece (Perkins) patrolling the paint, Boston struggled at both ends for most of the first half. Rotating nine players, Rivers struggled to find a combination that could sustain momentum. He even tried adding Rajon Rondo and Allan Ray to the mix.
The Clippers knew what worked for them, namely Elton Brand (25 points, 10 rebounds), Tim Thomas (25 points), and Shaun Livingston on the floor together. The Clippers never trailed after the opening minute and led by as many as 16 points before taking a 55-43 advantage into halftime.
After Gerald Green put the Celtics on the scoreboard with a 3-pointer, the Clippers reeled off a 13-2 run. They took their first double-digit lead (15-5) on a 3-point play by Brand with 7:42 remaining in the first quarter. Less than three minutes later, another 3-point play by Brand pushed Los Angeles ahead, 25-9. If not for Tony Allen setting a more aggressive tone for Boston, the game would have been over almost as soon as it started.
But Allen drove to the basket and got to the line, sparking a 17-2 run with free throws. Sebastian Telfair (team-high 18 points) capped the run and pulled Boston to 27-26 with a 3-point play. It took a 10-footer from Daniel Ewing at the buzzer to give the Clippers a 31-28 edge at the end of the quarter.
In almost a repeat of the first quarter, the Clippers quickly reestablished their double-digit lead, opening the second with an 8-1 run. This time, the Celtics didn't muster much of a response. A 3-pointer by Szczerbiak, his first basket, cut Boston's deficit to 9 with 6:34 left in the half. Al Jefferson followed by blocking a layup attempt by Livingston. It appeared Boston might be ready to start something. But after a couple misses and a timeout by the Clippers, the Celtics seemed less inspired.
Shira Springer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.