New-look Celtics finish strong
New-look unit gets best of the Clippers
LOS ANGELES — Everyone wondered how the Celtics would look after trading their starting center. Everyone forgot that two days after the dealing was done, they were facing a Clippers team that looked nothing like the team they were used to.
They were 17 games below .500, next to last in their division, but they were different. Blake Griffin made it that way, dunking like he was using the rim for therapy. Now a date with the Clippers meant a cameo on Griffin’s highlight reel, which the Celtics found out quickly.
It was a 4-point Clippers’ lead when Randy Foye (32 points) took a Ryan Gomes steal and went racing to start the fast break, Griffin running with him, pointing for the alley-oop. When he flushed it down, Glen Davis, the closest Celtic to the rubble, looked disgusted.
The Celtics fell behind by 13 before snapping back to reality.
They broke the Clippers down in the third quarter, outscoring them, 34-21, and never relinquishing control in a 99-92 win.
“It was a slow start,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “I thought they played harder the first half. They got to all the loose balls. They forced turnovers. They just had way more energy. I thought we joined in in the second and third quarters. You could see us getting into the game. Our defense got stops and we ran.
Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo repaid the favor to Foye and Griffin when Rondo underhanded a lob that Garnett threw down to give the Celtics a 62-53 lead and swing the momentum.
Griffin finished with a 21-point, 11-rebound double-double, but the Clippers suffered their third straight loss while the Celtics picked up their first win since the trade deadline.
Pierce scored 12 of his 23 points in the third quarter after starting the game 1 for 4. He went 6 of 14 from the floor and 11 of 13 from the line. Pierce’s 26-foot 3-pointer put the Celtics up, 87-77, with 6:33 left in the game and knocked the wind out of the Clippers.
“I said Paul, you’re our guy tonight,’’ Rivers said. “You have the best matchup on the floor. You’ve just got to do something about it. ’’
The new additions had to learn on the fly.
Inserted into the starting lineup, Nenad Krstic played 21 minutes, pulling down 6 rebounds (all on the offensive glass). He scored 9 points, mostly off cleanup work, at times looking shocked to see a Rondo pass bounce his direction.
Jeff Green (7 points in his Celtic debut) thrived with Rondo in the third quarter. He took a feed and hit a 17-foot baseline jumper that made it 67-61 with 2:04 left. His picked the right time to convert a pump-fake layup, giving the Celtics a 72-63 with 50 seconds left in the third quarter and the Clippers scrapping to keep the game close.
The Clippers jumped on the Celtics early but couldn’t sustain it. The Celtics were out of rhythm the entire first half. Garnett missed 6 of his first 7 shots and the Celtics shot 34.3 percent in the first half (12 of 35), keeping themselves afloat at the free throw line (15 of 17).
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.