Some thoughts on tonight's game while visions of Fab Melo dance in our heads. ...
Coming off one of their best wins of the early season, the Celtics face their biggest test to date tonight in Los Angeles. The Clippers come into tonight's game with the NBA's best record, though it's unclear whether or not they are the NBA's best team. The Celtics, however, aren't even in that discussion in late December. The question for them is whether or not they can enter that conversation in April, May, and June.
Los Angeles has put it all together after acquiring All-Star point guard Chris Paul in a trade last season. Paul and Blake Griffin form a dynamic inside-outside combination. Veterans Caron Butler and Matt Barnes are steadying forces, while youngsters DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe inject energy into the team. Jamaal Crawford might be the Sixth Man of the Year if he continues to score at this clip (16.5 points per game).
Paul has done for the Clippers what the Kevin Garnett trade did for the Celtics before the 2007-08 season. The team is now a very real contender. In addition to Paul, LA presents problems for the Celtics in the front court. Matching up with Griffin and Jordan is no easy task, and the Celtics don't possess the young, mobile big men with size to make it easier. Griffin is too experienced now to be intimidated into a bad game by Garnett and company.
Speaking of bad games, the Celtics can't afford one from Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, or Jeff Green tonight. Rondo should be motivated going against Paul, while Pierce is in the midst of one of his best stretches of basketball in some time. The pace at which the Celtics captain is playing has been just about perfect. Against Brooklyn on Christmas Day, Pierce lulled the Nets into double-teams before firing off quick, precise passes on his way to 10 assists. That game followed games of 40 and 35 points respectively. This may be Rondo's team, but the Celtics fare better when their offense revolves around a productive Pierce.
Green was mentioned because the Celtics bench contributed in a big way Tuesday. Green had 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting in that game, silencing his overzealous critics for at least one more day. Should be a fun one tonight. The Celtics always seem to play better on the road when pride is on the line.
Here are the details for tonight's game:
Tip-off: 10:30 p.m.
Records: Celtics (14-13), Clippers (22-6)
Broadcast info:TNT, WEEI/93.7 FM (Sean Grande and Cedric Maxwell)
Celtics: PG: Rajon Rondo SG: Jason Terry SF: Paul Pierce PF: Kevin Garnett C: Jason Collins
Clippers: PG: Chris Paul SG: Willie Green SF: Caron Butler PF: Blake Griffin C: DeAndre Jordan
Sullinger's minutes: Jared Sullinger had 16 points on 6-of-7-shooting Tuesday in 32 minutes. Averaging 17.7 minutes per game on the season, this trip will be a good chance to put Sullinger on the floor longer and see what happens.
Prepping for Bradley: With Avery Bradley scheduled to return when the Celtics get back to Boston next week, this is the last chance for Courtney Lee and Jason Terry to see extended minutes and sort out their roles. Terry is locked into the sixth man role off the bench when Bradley is healthy, so these three games out west will provide him with a chance to hone his offense. Lee, on the other hand, could see his minutes vanish when Bradley comes back unless he starts to turn it on.
Defense? Rebounding?: The Celtics held the Nets to 76 points on 40 percent shooting Tuesday and out-rebounded Brooklyn by five. The Clippers average 101.6 points per game. You can't expect Boston to keep Los Angeles under 80, but they've got to challenge just as well as they did on Christmas Day. Defense and rebounding are team concepts. Tuesday was a good start, but the Celtics need to show that they are thinking about those two fundamentals for more than one game.