BOSTON — From the team's playoff-like, detail-oriented execution Saturday to Paul George insisting he's overcoming a nagging groin injury for the second night in a row, Ty Lue saw a very motivated LA Clippers team against the Boston Celtics hours earlier .
In what Lue called a “measuring bar” game, the Clippers led by as many as 36 points and beat the Celtics 115-96 at a disappointing TD Garden on Saturday night.
The Clippers (30-14) are the hottest team in basketball and have improved to a league-best 22-4 record since December 1st. One of those losses was an embarrassing 145-108 home loss to the Celtics on December 23rd. While this loss came without the injured Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers were hoping for revenge.
In their most impressive win of the season, the Clippers handed Boston its second home loss of the season.
“The guys were pretty motivated,” Lue said. “…When they came to LA, they gave us a pretty bad time. So the boys were locked up.”
“…That was a game [where] PG, we thought he might be out but he wanted to play to see where we were. Just a measure of a great team. We just wanted to see where we stood. That’s what we had in mind.”
Although the Celtics (35-11) have only lost twice at home this season, they have lost both in a row. The Celtics lost to Denver on Jan. 19, and this latest home setback came without the injured Kristaps Porzingis.
The Clippers held the Celtics to 36% shooting and opened the game with a 21-0 run in the third quarter.
James Harden said it was the Clippers' best defensive performance this season.
“Against a team that played really, really well,” Harden said. “Especially at home. … We still have a ways to go, but this is a good test for us.”
Typically, this should be the type of game the Clippers have struggled with in the past. It was the second night in a row after they won in Toronto on Friday night. They are at the start of a grueling journey that will see them play seven games in 11 nights.
George played in that win in Toronto despite having a groin problem. It would have been easy for the Clippers to keep their star safe, especially against a Boston team that had its second-best record since Dec. 1 at 21-6.
But earlier this season, the Clippers said they needed to take the regular season more seriously. Their stars have avoided long-term injuries and the Clippers have found ways to win games even when they aren't playing at their best. After a 3-7 start, the Clippers are 27-7.
On Saturday, George, Harden and Russell Westbrook combined to shoot 9-for-31. George scored 17 points, but Harden only had nine points and Westbrook just four.
But defensively, the Clippers challenged shots, holding Boston to 22 of 75 shots in the first three quarters. The Celtics got 21 points from Jayson Tatum, but Jaylen Brown and Jrue Holiday combined to shoot 5 of 24 for a total of 15 points.
Leonard, who made 10 of 15 shots and finished with 26 points, agreed with Harden that the Clippers played excellent defense. But the two-time Finals MVP is focused on leading the Clippers to their first-ever NBA Finals appearance.
“I’m glad we were able to give the Celtics a loss,” Leonard said. “But it really doesn’t mean anything until you get to the playoffs and do the things we did tonight — execute, make shots, play good defense.”
“It's good that we took last night's result from Toronto and won these back-to-back games. But you just have to keep getting better as the year goes on.”