Thursday completed the common season sequence between the LA Clippers and the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics. After the Clippers beat the Celtics 113-93 in LA, the Celtics exacted revenge with a 116-110 win in Boston.

This matchup has had elevated intrigue through the years for quite a lot of causes, from the groups’ deep-rooted connections to the similarities in roster building. This 12 months, each the Clippers and Celtics have championship aspirations that might see them meet for a 3rd time 5 months from now. 

The Athletic’s Clippers beat author Law Murray and Celtics beat author Jared Weiss talk about what they’ve seen from these two groups collectively and what the longer term could maintain.

Murray: The Celtics go to to LA 17 days in the past was a giant second for the Clippers. It was the primary time that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George performed a house recreation collectively since November 19, 23 days prior, when the Clippers hosted the Spurs. That Spurs recreation was so good offensively that Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue known as it “The Blueprint” for the way the crew ought to play, however George didn’t play in that recreation after halftime whereas Leonard injured his ankle within the following recreation. 

As Celtics performing head coach Damon Stoudamire identified pregame in Boston on Thursday, the Clippers had been the one crew to outscore the Celtics in every quarter all season. The LA assembly was additionally Kawhi Leonard’s breakout recreation, as he scored 25 factors on 10-of-12 capturing and eclipsed 20 factors for the primary time this season. He’s accomplished it twice extra since main into the rematch in Boston.

The George/Leonard matchup with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown is probably the most intriguing a part of these two groups taking part in one another, and it will headline a Finals matchup. How do you see Tatum and Brown measuring up with the Clippers?

Weiss: The Clippers duo has been the street map for the Jays for thus lengthy, particularly with so many similarities between all of them. Tatum advised The Athletic years in the past that Leonard and George had been the 2 contemporaries he studied to make the leap as a downhill scorer and playmaker. He took on numerous George’s model and cadence when he first began to hit that star degree, with lengthy strides and a large, jerky crossover. 

But over the previous two seasons, he’s change into extra highly effective and refined together with his motion, possibly the closest facsimile within the league to Leonard’s X-ray imaginative and prescient recreation. Leonard simply will get to his spot, it doesn’t matter what, and shoots it. The defender can have a fingertip inches from his eye and he doesn’t even really feel it. 

Tatum just about at all times will get to his spot and shoots like no one is there. He now not tries to seek out the wide-open shot, however goes by everybody in entrance of him and shoots on his personal timing. He’s discovered that when you don’t care what the defender has to say, you are able to do no matter you need. That’s probably the most Leonard factor about his recreation. He actually is a particular mix of Leonard and George’s playstyle, whereas Brown clearly has parts of their recreation in the way in which that he hangs for midrangers like Leonard and will get into low, fast dribble spurts into spin strikes like George.

Boston’s duo has a method to go of their playmaking to catch as much as these guys, however their scoring potential seems to be on par, if not forward. If the Clippers duo remains to be sustaining an edge, it’s actually on the psychological aspect. Stoudamire put it completely earlier than the sport Thursday, explaining how the Clippers have a transparent id that begins on the high.

“I liken the Clippers to like a 90s team. They’re really methodical, they’re not trying to fool you on either end of the floor. If a player’s scoring they’re going to hit you, double team,” Stoudamire mentioned. “So I just think that with both of those guys you have to show a little bit of patience and just read the game. And that’s something that we’ve talked about especially coming into tonight. When (Brown and Tatum) tend to struggle, those are things that happen. But when our spacing is right, they always seem to make the right play.”

(Adam Pantozzi/NBAE by way of Getty Images)

Murray: It’s attention-grabbing that you simply point out Tatum mirroring George’s model, as George has began these two video games defending Tatum. And on this recreation in Boston, Tatum and George had a sequence within the second quarter the place they had been buying and selling baskets. Tatum was capable of maintain that constant by the quarter, although. Leonard and Brown every scored 15 first half factors in Boston, however Tatum outscored George 20-9, and that was the identical halftime margin as nicely.

Weiss: Brown and Tatum had been nice contained in the arc, however had been dreadful from deep. The Clippers duo really had been higher within the half courtroom, however Brown particularly was feasting on quick breaks. There was one play when George hit a layup and Al Horford instantly inbounded it to Brown, who sprinted coast-to-coast and completed by method an excessive amount of visitors to justify the shot try. But he was decided to attain and he often pulls it off when he does that on the break.

The Celtics haven’t been at full well being loads this month as a bug has swept by the locker room and I’m wondering how this recreation would have appeared with Malcolm Brogdon on the market. Would which have opened up extra half courtroom offense for Boston and widened the margin? Would it have taken away Boston’s incentive to run?

Murray: You noticed how Payton Pritchard was within the first half rotation, however these minutes didn’t go nicely, and Pritchard wasn’t seen once more after halftime. That clearly isn’t one thing that will occur with Brogdon. The Clippers are literally more healthy now than they had been when the Celtics had been in LA, with Norman Powell returning to well being. The Celtics didn’t have facilities Al Horford or Robert Williams III obtainable, however they do now. How do these two change this matchup, Jared? 

Weiss: The most evident distinction was that they had been extra aggressive blitzing Tatum and Brown, doing it typically all through the sport after which going all-out strain in crunch time to spark a comeback. Stoudamire mentioned they’re a 90s crew, and what’s extra 90s than full courtroom urgent like we’re in center faculty?

It appeared just like the intention behind the blitzing was to ensure the Jays couldn’t get downhill and lob it to the middle within the dunker spot, since they know Williams can torch them with vertical spacing when Batum or Morris are on the 5. But we did see loads of blitzes with Zubac on the market as nicely, so it was only a need to get Tatum and Brown off the ball as a lot as potential within the half courtroom.

Joe Mazzulla has at all times indicated there is no such thing as a minutes restriction for Rob Williams, however Stoudamire mentioned Thursday that they’ve “been given medically the minutes he should play.” There’s an entire semantics debate on whether or not that technically constitutes a minutes restriction in the event that they flow, however he clearly isn’t going to be taking part in 35 an evening any time quickly (or ever). 

Williams’ reply summed it up completely.

“S—, they just look at me and ask me if I’m good. Basically, they check on me like every two minutes while I’m in the game and ask me if I’m good. I ain’t trying to come out,” Williams mentioned on Thursday night time.

That’s a giant a part of why Williams remains to be coming off the bench and Mazzulla has left his place within the rotation up within the air. There’s no clear reply for learn how to deal with this case on a crew that has eight starting-caliber gamers, however Ty Lue has loads of apply with these sorts of adverse lineup selections. How has he been dealing with the league’s deepest roster up to now?

Murray: It’s been a piece in progress for Lue, and that fourth quarter in Boston was a pointy instance. Batum is a switchable defender with smarts and size. He’s the crew’s most dependable participant by way of availability, as he has performed in each recreation. But Batum tweaked an ankle within the first quarter, and his rim safety was nonexistent within the second half.

Norman Powell is the Sixth Man, and he most likely has the surest position: put your head down and rating, regardless of who’s on the ground. But if Powell is on the ground with out Zubac or Batum, even when it’s with the opposite 4 starters, the inside protection is susceptible. Boston scored 20 fourth quarter factors, a season-high for them and for a Clippers opponent this season. Brown had half of them.

So Lue can do a greater job of using his sources, particularly towards a crew like Boston. Luke Kennard performed 17:23 with out trying a shot of any sort, and the Celtics began concentrating on him late. Terance Mann didn’t play in any respect after halftime; he’s the kind of participant that you simply wouldn’t goal like Kennard was, particularly with Kennard not getting photographs up. John Wall performed beneath management, however was additionally being defended late by Robert Williams, and we noticed Luke Kornet guarding him in LA.

The Clippers have the means to regulate, and that will be useful in a playoff setting. But we’re a great distance from that, and the bench items have to truly make sense too, or you may overlook the Clippers getting out of the West.

Weiss: There’s been numerous questions on whether or not Williams ought to be coming off the bench, however he has been emphatic on saying he’s completely satisfied so long as the crew is completely satisfied.

If that happens, it happens. But we winners over here. We pride ourselves on putting team first,” Williams mentioned. “I can impact off the bench. I like being able to see where I need to add the energy coming off of the bench. But like I said, it’s in the air, I’m gonna rock with these guys regardless.”

That’s an important place for a participant who’s far more than a job participant to take, particularly because the crew was clicking when he was on the market with the starters.  It’s at all times a problem to maintain the highest canine completely satisfied, however they not less than have free vary to do as they please. Boston has rigorously curated its roster to ensure the gamers on that second tier actually are purchased into sacrificing their position, which they want since there’s at all times going to be three starting-caliber gamers who’ve to observe crunch time from the bench.

It’s why Boston’s rut, which actually hit its drop off towards the Clippers the primary time round, has reversed course. The total defensive depth fell off, nevertheless it’s again and it’s setting the crew as much as create simpler buckets in transition all through the night time. Tatum and Brown have been going off as of late, however the crew hasn’t been solely reliant on their brilliance. The cohesiveness of the offense appears to be again and the protection has been holding up robust for some time now.

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(Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)

Murray: If these groups had been to match up, it will undoubtedly be a spotlight for apex wing play. The Clippers are so a lot better when Leonard is on the ground, and he has the sort of recreation that will be difficult for the Celtics to take care of since he lives within the midrange. But each he and George are going to should execute higher towards blitz defenses. Boston hasn’t pressured many turnovers this season, however George (4) and Leonard (3) had 7 of the 13 Clippers turnovers in Boston. George, particularly, is most liable to the sorts of turnovers that may flip momentum. When George’s turnovers are low and his discipline aim makes an attempt are excessive, the Clippers are a greater crew. 

It’s nice that these two groups ship memorable common season video games. That’s been the case all 4 seasons that George and Leonard have been Clippers, although neither Clippers star performed within the Celtics video games final 12 months and Boston has had 4 head coaches on this sequence someway. A Finals matchup would deliver out the most effective in all 4 of Leonard, George, Tatum, and Brown.

 (Top Photo: Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

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