|Paul Pierce lays down the law to Travis Outlaw, knocking the ball away in Boston's 112-102 victory Sunday night. (Steve DiPaola/Reuters)|
LOS ANGELES - It looked a lot like the good old days around here last night. Celebrities and minicams surrounding the Celtics locker room. Clippers owner Donald Sterling bemoaning his team's play. Yup, another ritualistic LA beating.
There was a distinct air of inevitability about this one from the outset, with two teams in different states of health going in opposite directions in the second half of the season. And in a city built on hopes and dreams, there were absolutely no surprises at the Staples Center.
The Celtics pounded the Clippers, 104-76, leading for virtually the entire 48 minutes, and closing their road trip with a methodically efficient victory before a sellout crowd of 19,238 that featured a lot of Celtics fans. Boston closed the trip with two wins (over likely nonplayoff teams) after losing three straight (to two likely playoff teams.)
The Celtics also completed a 4-0 sweep of the Los Angeles teams for the first time since 2001-02 (although they got the Lakers pre-Pau and a Clippers team last night that was hopelessly overmatched).
Boston shot 55.1 percent and held the Clippers to 40.1 percent in yet another macho display at both ends of the floor. The Celtics led by 6 after one, by 9 at the half, then blew it open in the third, using a 14-0 run to take a 20-point lead into the fourth quarter. The lead eventually reached 29.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers called it "a great team win, a professional win. It's good to get that last win before going back home."
But Clippers boss Sterling, who was in the press room afterward, was not a happy man.
"I thought they played hard," he said of the Celtics. "Do you think our team played hard?"
Sterling said he knew nothing about the likely buyout of Sam Cassell's contract, which may happen as early as today, but said he wished Cassell well if, in fact, he was leaving the team. Sterling also said he had no idea that Cassell might end up in Boston. (Does this guy read the papers?)
Boston got 17 points from Paul Pierce and James Posey while Ray Allen added 15 and Leon Powe 12. Rivers's rotation reflected the fact that this was (a) the last game of a trip and (b) the second end of a back-to-back. Allen (34 minutes) was the only starter to play more than 30 minutes. Kevin Garnett (11 points, 6 rebounds) played just 23 minutes and, along with Pierce, watched the fourth quarter from the bench.
Rivers even managed to get playing time for Gabe Pruitt, who hadn't gotten into a game since Jan. 29. Pruitt played the final 9:40 before a traffic-beating crowd whose remnants were Celtics fans, soon-to-be Celtics fans, and Pruitt's extended family. Some Celtics fans started a "we want Pollard" chant with eight minutes left, but Scot Pollard remained on the bench.
The victory improved the Celtics' record against the Western Conference to 18-3.
The injury-ravaged Clippers were without Chris Kaman (back) and Cassell (wrist) to add to the long-term losses of Elton Brand and Shaun Livingston, neither of whom has played a game this season. Coach Mike Dunleavy has used 22 starting lineups this season, which is absurd, and has not had one starting five for more than 11 games. By contrast, Rivers's preferred starting five took the floor for the 38th time last night.
"They overpowered us with size and they shot the ball well," Dunleavy said. "We didn't play well."
No, they didn't. The only time the Clippers led was early in the game and at no time was their lead larger than 2 points. The Celtics took the lead for good on an Allen layup with 6:36 left in the first quarter. Boston was so efficient it didn't have an offensive rebound until a Kendrick Perkins putback in the third quarter. The Celtics bench was again outstanding, accounting for 46 points.
It was that kind of night, the same kind of night Sterling saw all too often in the 1980s when a championship-caliber Celtics team would bludgeon a lottery-bound Clippers team and think nothing of it.
These Celtics have legitimate championship aspirations. These Clippers are going to the lottery but, when healthy, feel they can compete in the brutal West. Unfortunately for them, they are not healthy enough now to compete against the best of the West or the best of the East.