LA upstarts steal off with win at Garden
The Celtics were giving the Clippers shots of confidence like 5-Hour Energy drinks.
That’s how a loud but harmless DeAndre Jordan slam turned into seven loud and punishing DeAndre Jordan slams. That’s how an innocuous Mo Williams first-quarter 3-pointer turned into five eye-opening threes by the former Cavalier. That’s how a 13-point first-quarter lead stretched to an 18-point halftime lead and then to a 23-point lead early in the third quarter — one espresso-sized shot of confidence at a time — and in their 108-103 loss to the Clippers last night at TD Garden, the Celtics served them up.
“Once you give a team confidence like the Clippers,’’ said Celtics captain Paul Pierce, “then they feed off that for the rest of the game.’’
Still, there’s a 23-point lead. Then there’s a 23-point Clippers lead. Even though the Clippers had the Celtics buried under a barrage of dunks and 3-pointers, they found a way to give most of it back, scrambling in the fourth quarter to salvage one of their biggest wins of the season.
The Celtics started the fourth quarter with a 17-10 run, cutting the gap to 86-83, and the Clippers were doing anything they could to hang on.
Ryan Gomes’s 3-pointer with 3:59 remaining stretched the lead back to double digits. Williams hit another hush-up three with 2:46 left that made it 100-91. After Kevin Garnett responded with a jumper, Jordan threw down a filthy one-handed dunk along the baseline, and stared at Garnett, that stretched it to 102-93.
Blake Griffin, who had been relatively quiet, flushed his requisite dunk to put Los Angeles up, 104-93, and even that lead wasn’t Clipper-proof. The Celtics cut it to 106-103 when Ray Allen drilled a 23-footer with 10.5 seconds left.
But once Randy Foye hit a pair of free throws and Pierce chucked up a prayer that bounced off the top of the backboard, the Clippers’ win was secure.
“It’s tough when you get out to bad starts, and a lot of that has to do with the starters,’’ said Pierce, who scored 19 points on 5-of-11 shooting. “How we come out at the beginning of games, we’ve got to come out with a better focus.’’
For a night, Griffin handed the highlight duties to Jordan, who went 9 of 10 (seven dunks) from the floor, putting up a season-high 21 points to go with nine rebounds.
“If you had told me DeAndre Jordan would have 21, I’d have not been very happy with that,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “It’s rare when you get a young kid that really doesn’t need to score. He just wants to run the floor, set picks and block shots, and if scoring comes on rolls to the basket he’ll take it, and he’s happy with that. That’s unusual, and that’s great.’’
Griffin’s string of eight straight double-doubles came to an end, but the Clippers snapped the Celtics’ five-game winning streak.
Working in five new players, the Celtics looked like a team still in chemistry class. Allen scored 23 points and Nenad Krstic scored 20. Rajon Rondo flirted with a triple-double (13 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds). But the Clippers shot 52 percent, and their bench, led by Chris Kaman’s 10-point night, outscored the Celtics’ reserves, 26-12. Carlos Arroyo played 15 minutes in his Celtics debut, going for 4 points, 2 assists, and 3 rebounds.
Garnett had one of his worst nights of the season, finishing with 16 points and eight rebounds but shooting 5 of 19 from the floor. It was the most shots he’s taken since Nov. 8 against Dallas.
The Celtics had been able to toy with lesser teams in recent games, blowing big leads over the Suns and Warriors last week, and falling behind by double digits to the Bucks on Sunday, yet still win.
“We don’t want to get into that habit, so we have to address it now, getting off to better starts,’’ Pierce said. “I like the way we’ve been finishing games. We didn’t do that tonight like we wanted to, but if we get off to better starts, with the way we’ve been finishing we would be able to put in 48 minutes of basketball. Right now, it’s a lot of inconsistency. Some of that has to do with implementing a lot of new guys. But like I said, we’ve got to get off to better starts and that’s with the guys that have been here.’’
It was just the seventh road win of the season for the Clippers, and the Celtics’ sixth loss at the Garden. The Clippers left with one of their biggest wins, and it left a sour taste in Allen’s mouth.
“We’re not better than them because of our record,’’ he said. “We’re better than them because we play hard every night and we play together. Walking into a game, your record doesn’t win anything. You have to take a team like that and you have to show them why they don’t belong on the same floor with us, and tonight we didn’t do that.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.