Boston’s slide continued on Sunday when they went down 99-121 to the new-look Cavaliers. Terry Rozier had 21 points and five assists off the bench, but the Celtics defense was well below it’s usual standard. They have now lost three of their past four, in the process giving up top spot in the Eastern Conference to Toronto.
In contrast, the Clippers are coming off a comfortable win in Brooklyn. Lou Williams had 20 points while DeAndre Jordan had 16 points and 17 rebounds in the 114-101 victory. Los Angeles inched their way closer to a playoff spot with the win and are now in ninth place in the west with a record of 29-26 - just half a game behind the Pelicans in eighth spot.
Three keys to the game
Boston’s worrying form - The Celtics loomed as a probable number one seed in the Eastern Conference for much of the first half of the season, but are amid a form slump which has now stretched to almost a month. In their past 14 games, dating back to January 16, the Celtics are just 6-8. They have lost their offensive potency and their defensive identity, and questions are now being asked about their ability to challenge the best teams in the east.
Clippers without Griffin - In six games since the Clippers shook up their team by discarding Blake Griffin, they have fared pretty well with a 4-2 record. Their offense has taken a bit of a hit, but defensively they have been significantly better in these games. For the season, they concede 106.8 points per 100 possessions yet in the past six games this has dropped to 101.5.
Stopping DeAndre - In recent games, Celtics coach Brad Stevens has sent Aron Baynes back to the bench, meaning Al Horford has started at the center position. As versatile as Horford is, he is undersized at the five, something which Jordan is very much not. Jordan is second in the league in rebounding, grabbing 15.1 boards per game, and also contributes 11.4 points a night. He will be looking to use his size against the significantly smaller Horford, and put up some big numbers.
Matchup to watch
Lou Williams vs Kyrie Irving - These two won’t start on each other given Williams will come off the bench, but once he enters the game he hardly leaves it, and spends much of the night as the Clippers’ primary point guard. He is having a season which almost warranted All-Star selection, putting up 23.2 points and 5.3 assists a night.
Irving went a step further, being selected as an All-Star starter for his role as the best player on a superb team. He is scoring 24.6 points per night at an efficient 48.5% from the floor, and dishing out 5.0 assists. Irving is the focal point of what has been an impressive offense through much of the first half of the season.
Boston Celtics predicted starting lineup
PG - Kyrie Irving | SG - Jaylen Brown | SF - Jayson Tatum | PF - Marcus Morris | C - Aron Baynes
Los Angeles Clippers predicted starting lineup
PG - Austin Rivers | SG - Avery Bradley | SF - Danilo Gallinari | PF - Tobias Harris | C - DeAndre Jordan
Irving hasn’t been at his best in his nine career games against the Clippers. He has averaged 19.9 points in these games, around three below his career average, and shot 41.9% from the floor, over 4% below his career rate.
Jordan is just 0.3 rebounds shy of averaging a career double-double against the Celtics. In 17 career games he averages 10.5 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks, though he has shot at just 38.2% from the free throw line.
Boston are not playing their best basketball, but remain better than the -4.5 handicap they have been allocated by oddsmakers. They are still a good basketball team and should be able to beat the Clippers by more than this total at home. Take the Celtics at the line.
Boston will get back onto the winners’ list. The battle between Irving and Williams at point guard will be vital, and considering they are both much more gifted on the offensive end than the defensive end, expect them to put up some strong numbers.
The game will be close throughout, but Boston will be able to sneak away in the final quarter to win 102-96 at home.
The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN. Tip-off is at 8pm ET.