The last time these two teams met, the Clippers ran away with it by a score of 106-77. This time was a completely different story.
The Celtics opened up a 59-40 lead by halftime, and the Clippers looked discombobulated with Chris Paul out again due to a bruised kneecap. Boston dominated the second quarter, outscoring L.A. 26-10.
The C's shot well from the field through 24 minutes, knocking down 20 of their 38 shots. While Boston was out-rebounded in the first half (22-15), it also forced 14 turnovers from the Clippers while committing just five.
Boston's scoring was incredibly balanced. At the half, no Celtic had 10 points, but 10 different players had made a field goal.
Still, the Clippers made it very interesting in the fourth quarter, cutting the lead to just two points inside the final minute. Paul Pierce's triple with three seconds remaining sealed the deal and averted disaster.
The Celtics bench was a huge factor in the win. Jason Terry sparkled, and Jeff Green and Leandro Barbosa both scored in double digits as well.
Incredibly, Boston went 11-of-18 from three-point range, which is very uncharacteristic.
While the C's had lost six of their last 10, they had also won three in a row. They are a paltry 7-14 on the road, but they've been strong at TD Garden, with this win putting them at 17-9 at home.
The Clippers had a 34-14 record at tipoff. That put them in third place in the West, 3.5 games behind the San Antonio Spurs. While they're a sensational 20-5 at home, they also have played well on the road (now 14-10).
In the end, Boston barely held on, and it required strong play off the bench and some familiar heroics from Pierce to do so.
Courtney Lee, PG: C+
Courtney Lee has stepped up with Rajon Rondo done for the season.
The Clippers were also without their own star point guard Chris Paul. But they have Eric Bledsoe, who is almost certainly the best backup point guard in the league—though he's no CP3, of course.
In Rondo's absence, his assists seem to have been distributed evenly across the team. By halftime, six Celtics had two or more assists.
Lee didn't have a huge impact on the game, and his plus/minus rating indicated as much (minus-seven).
He finished with seven points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals in 30 minutes of play.
He also committed a pair of crucial turnovers in the game's final four minutes as Boston's lead dwindled down to a one-possession gap.
Doc Rivers brought in Jason Terry for Lee in the game's final two minutes.
Avery Bradley, SG: D+
Bradley committed his third foul with eight minutes remaining in the second quarter and had to be substituted.
He played poorly overall, shooting just 2-of-8. Boston's point differential with Bradley on the floor was minus-11. His four fouls made him tentative on defense late in the game.
Paul Pierce, SF: A-
Pierce has a strong overall first half, scoring seven points and chipping in two dimes, two steals and a rebound.
Then he came alive in the third quarter, looking like vintage Truth. Pierce dropped 11 points in the quarter, including three three-pointers. But he also made three turnovers in the frame.
Overall, Pierce had an inconsistent game. He was 7-of-16 from the field and committed six turnovers. But he did lead the team in scoring with 22 points.
His three-pointer in the waning seconds delivered a five-point lead to Boston and put the game out of reach.
Brandon Bass, PF: B
Bass had only three points in the first half, but somewhat unthinkably, he also led the team with four assists through two quarters. I know, I had to triple-check it to be sure.
Bass played fairly well overall (nine points, eight rebounds). He exhibited a physical presence defensively and on the boards.
Kevin Garnett, C: B-
Incredibly, early in the game, Sean Deveney of the Sporting News tweeted that the Clippers inquired with Boston about swapping Garnett for Eric Bledsoe.
— Sean Deveney (@SeanDeveney) February 3, 2013
It seems somewhat unthinkable that L.A. would swap a very talented 23-year-old point guard for a 36-year-old big man. It seems just as unthinkable that Boston would ship KG out of town.
But this news merely added some seasoning to the matchup.
Garnett had six points at the half, as well as four boards, two assists and a steal.
However, he also picked up his fourth foul with over seven minutes left in the third quarter and had to sit down. With just under 10 minutes remaining in the fourth, Garnett went to the bench after picking up his fifth foul and a technical.
While KG had 12 points at that stage, he has also committed three turnovers. The Celtics led by 15 when Garnett picked up the tech and headed to the bench.
The Clippers promptly went on a run, cutting their deficit to just six before Garnett returned with five-and-a-half minutes left. The C's barely held off L.A. and needed some heroics from Jason Terry and Paul Pierce to avoid blowing a 19-point lead yet again.
Jason Terry, SG: A
Terry had an erratic January where his production and minutes saw peaks and valleys.
But in this one, he had nine points by the half (on 3-of-4 shooting) to lead the C's in scoring (tied with Jeff Green). He also had two assists, two rebounds and a steal through two quarters.
Terry doled out four assists in the third quarter alone as Boston sought to maintain its cushy lead.
While Terry had only one bucket in the fourth quarter, it could not have come at a more opportune time. Boston led by just three points with under 90 seconds to play before Terry drained a fadeaway jumper.
The Celtics hadn't scored in the previous two-and-a-half minutes, and it helped hold off the Clippers' furious comeback attempt.
Terry finished with 13 points, and his overall play was vital to Boston's victory. The C's were plus-17 with Terry on the floor. Leandro Barbosa had the next best rating for Boston at plus-eight.
Rest of Bench: A
The Celtics bench started strong, with five different players coming off the pine to make a shot within the first 15 minutes of the game. By the fourth quarter, three bench players had scored in double digits.
Jeff Green was one of them. He will be all the more important for Boston with Jared Sullinger suffering a season-ending back injury (per The Boston Globe). Green had nine first-half points to go with two boards and a block. He added five more points in the third quarter.
Leandro Barbosa was also strong off the bench. He had eight third-quarter points to give him 14 after 36 minutes.
Jason Collins attempted only one shot from the field, which he made, but he was also 5-of-5 from the line.
Chris Wilcox played less than four minutes but sank both the field goals he attempted.
Fab Melo did not play after squeezing in three minutes against the Orlando Magic on Friday, his first regular-season action of the year.
Overall, the strong play of Green and Barbosa off the bench helped propel the Celtics to a big win over a very talented Clippers squad. They will face the Toronto Raptors next on Wednesday at the Air Canada Centre.