The Celtics have struggled mightily this season with late-game execution and they had another opportunity to seal a victory with one well-executed possession against Sunday against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Paul Pierce took the responsibility in his own hands with the clock winding down and the Celtics desperately needing a hoop. Against defensive menace Matt Barnes, faked a forward dribble and then released one of his customary 3-point stepback jumpers. The result? Swish.
Pierce’s 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left helped the Celtics beat the Clippers 106-104, avoiding blowing a 19-point lead and notching another impressive victory without Rajon Rondo.
Pierce scored 15 of his 22 points in the second half as the Celtics barely held on to the hard-charging Clippers, who used the hot-shooting of Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe to creep back into the game.
Bledoe’s 3-pointer got the Clippers to within 103-101 with 56.2 seconds left.
After a Celtics turnover, Avery Bradley drew a key offensive foul from Crawford, allowing Pierce to seal the Celtics’ fourth straight win.
Leandro Barbosa and Jeff Green each added 14 points from Jason Terry scored 13.
Bledsoe and Crawford led Los Angeles with 23 points while Blake Griffin pitched in 20 points and 11 rebounds.
The Clippers awoke offensively in the third quarter, scoring 37 points (Doc Rivers laments 30-point quarters by opponents) in shooting 60 percent and canning four 3-pointers, two of those by Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford, who was playing with a nasal fracture.
Point guard Eric Bledsoe also caused the Celtics major issues with his speed, he seemingly got to the basket at will and scored 10 points in the period on a series of runners and layups. Still, the Celtics withstood that charge and headed to the fourth with a 15-point lead thanks to 11 points from Pierce and another strong offensive showing from Leandro Barbosa, whose runner at the buzzer gave the Celtics a 92-77 lead.
They needed nearly every point of that margin to hold on. The Celtics turned in one of their best quarters of the season in the second, turning a 3-point lead into a 19-point halftime advantage as the blended strong defense, ball movement and the Clippers’ propensity for mistakes into control of the game.
Nine Celtics scored in the quarter but the suddenly revived bench was responsible for extending the lead. Jason Terry scored 6 of the 19 points by the reserved in the quarter, while Jeff Green added a 3-pointer with 20.7 seconds left in the period for a 59-40 lead. That play, called after a timeout, caused Doc Rivers to smile walking into the tunnel when the half ended.
Meanwhile, the Clippers, playing without Chris Paul for the eighth consecutive game because of a bruised right kneecap, were out of sync, scoring 10 points on 4-for-18 shooting and committing nine turnovers. Blake Griffin, in foul trouble and psyched out by Kevin Garnett, went scoreless in the period, as did Caron Butler, who scored 8 points in the first 3:34 of the game.
What was stunning about the Celtics’ stellar first half that produced 52.6 percent shooting was that all 10 players scored but none scored in double figures. Terry and Green scored 9 points each while Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce teamed for just 13, a testament that the Celtics are requiring their Big Three to score big to stay competitive.