What Celtics learned from intense battle with Clippers


Leading up to Wednesday’s matchup, the Celtics refused to say they’d use their game against the Clippers as a measuring stick. Whether or not that’s actually the case is one thing, but they were right to refrain from making a comment along those lines. It would’ve only given Patrick Beverley more ammo, and that guy doesn’t need any extra motivation.

For all the attention Kawhi Leonard and Paul George command, followed by Lou Williams, Beverley had just as much of an impact on Boston losing 107-104 in overtime.

“Pat Bev is a gamer. … He changed the game, that’s what he does,” Marcus Smart told reporters.

Marcus Smart is incredible pic.twitter.com/oC2SEuGUNr

— Dan Greenberg (@StoolGreenie) November 21, 2019

He only scored 14 points, but Beverley was much more efficient than usual (5-for-11 from the floor, 4-for-7 from three). Where he really made a difference was defensively and, maybe even more so, on the glass. The 6-foot-1 guard had 16 rebounds, four of which were on the offensive end. He kept offensive possessions alive, on top of being his usual, relentless self on defense.

From his performance, the Celtics need to recognize he’s going to crash — a lot. Boxing out is a dying art, but someone has to check him. Additionally, Beverley made life miserable for Kemba Walker (4-for-17, 3-for-9 from three for 13 points).

Though, slowing down Walker wasn’t a one-man job. Beverley suffocated him along the perimeter, but Walker could not find openings or create any space in the paint. The Clippers swallowed him up almost every time he drove.

The rest of the Celtics didn’t have the same issues on the inside. When they couldn’t hit a 3-pointer at the beginning of the game — Boston started 0-for-16 from three — everyone attacked the basket, and they found their offense.

And even though the Celtics didn’t shoot well at the start, they played well defensively and made life difficult for the Clippers. The Celtics still have to improve their first-quarter offense, but right now, keeping the score close early is progress from where they were only a few games ago.

Plus, if it’s tight after the first quarter, the Celtics will generally have the advantage the rest of the way because they consistently get better as the game goes along.

Fast-forward to the end of regulation: Jayson Tatum isn’t fazed by big moments. He hit the big shot against the Knicks at home, then he roasted Paul George — one of the game’s best defenders — and knocked down the game-tying three. Walker is an electric fourth-quarter player, but Tatum needs to be the one taking the shot with the game on the line — especially against teams with size.

“That’s the opportunity you look for,” Tatum said about his shot at the end of regulation. “Especially (under) bright lights, (on a) big stage. You don’t want to back down, you want to compete and show that you belong. Earn their respect.”

Telling my kids this was Michael Jordan -- pic.twitter.com/EBQlkbT3lX

— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) November 21, 2019

Now, the Clippers aren’t exactly a big team, but they have three of the best defenders in the NBA, two being wings. Their lack of bigs is something the Celtics need to expose in the future. This is specifically referring to Enes Kanter. He scored eight points on 4 of 6 shooting in 12 minutes. Boston still can’t rely on Kanter late in games — yes, because of his defense — but in the second and third quarters, he can provide offense inside and rebound (he had six boards). Kanter can’t take too many minutes away from Daniel Theis (14 rebounds), but he showed he has something to offer against one of the best teams in the NBA.

When it comes to the important minutes in the fourth quarter, if Theis isn’t on the floor, Grant Williams needs to be out there because of his physicality. Robert Williams offers length, but he didn’t bring anything to the table on Wednesday.

Someone who did bring a lot to Boston’s effort was Brad Wanamaker. He had five assists and scored a season-high 14 points on 4-for-8 shooting. He’s also physical on the defensive end. The issue with Wanamaker is he runs into problems when he’s out on the floor too long, especially on defense. And when Beverley covered him for a short while, Wanamaker couldn’t do anything on offense.

To bring it all back to the “measuring stick” idea: this game was a great sign for the Celtics. They battled back from being down, went toe-to-toe with two of the best wings in the league, and weren’t overwhelmed when things were tight late. Sure, they lost, but if they’re going to be legitimate title contenders, the Celtics need games like this to expose their weakness and identify their strengths.

Boston has quite a bit to work on, when it comes to both pregame planning and in-game adjustments, but this is a start.

“It was a really good game, it was a high-level game,” Brad Stevens said. “Both teams really competed. Even when shots weren’t going down for both sides and we were both turning it over a little bit at the end of the first half, it was still very competitive. And the defense on both ends was really outstanding.”

Also, Boston did this all without Gordon Hayward, who consistently forces defenses to collapse and always looks for the open man.

Lastly, the refs performed poorly at the end of the game. The call against Jaylen Brown — who had a miserable offensive game — that put George at the line was inexcusable. That being said, the refs didn’t lose Boston the game. They may have impacted things, sure, but they always do. The Celtics had plenty of chances to make those calls non-factors throughout the night.

Jayson Tatum led the Celtics with 30 points. It’s only the second time he’s reached the mark in 173 NBA games.