Kawhi Leonard was playing his first game with Paul George, providing the Boston Celtics with the first shot at what many - myself included - believe is the best 1-2 punch in the NBA.
The Los Angeles Clippers’ dynamic duo did not disappoint, delivering big plays at both ends of the floor.
But what makes the Clippers so special isn’t the fact that they have Leonard and George leading the way.
It’s the players around them.
And it was those players that ultimately proved to be the difference as the Clippers handed the Celtics a 107-104 overtime loss.
Patrick Beverley, an 18.9 percent 3-point shooter coming into Wednesday’s game, was 4-for-7 on 3’s which included one that put them ahead 107-102 with less than a minute to play in overtime. He finished with a double-double of 14 points and 16 rebounds to go with seven assists, three steals and two blocked shots.
And then there was supersub Lou Williams who led all Clippers with 27 points off the bench. The Clippers also got solid games from JaMychal Green (10 points, eight rebounds) and Montrezl Harrell (six points, six rebounds and three assists).
Boston’s bench played a solid game, but the Clippers still managed to outscore Boston’s backups 43-29.
Here are five takeaways from the Celtics’ loss to the Clippers.
Fourth Quarter Letdown
The Boston Celtics have shown a level of grit and toughness when the game has been on the line. But what we saw on Wednesday was a rare Celtics meltdown in the fourth quarter. Boston would pull ahead by as many as 10 points in the fourth quarter only for the Clippers to rally to take the lead in the fourth only for Boston’s Jayson Tatum to hit a 3-pointer, and send Paul George tumbling to the ground on the play, that forced overtime.
It was a good game on many levels for Boston. They proved that they could indeed hold their own with one of the elite teams in the NBA. But this is a game that Boston should have won. After missing all but one of the 18 three-pointers they took in the first half, they connected on 7-of-10 in the third and were well-positioned going into the fourth with a six-point lead that they would push to double digits.
Boston has shown us enough for us to know that they are a good team. But this is the kind of loss that reminds us all that as good as the Celtics are, there are still levels of play that they are not at yet and because of that, that makes them vulnerable in close, down-to-the-wire games against an elite team like the Clippers which if they’re not careful, will spell defeat more times than not.
He’s more than just a defender. Ask the Boston Celtics who found this out the hard way after Beverley single-handedly carried the Clippers for long stretches at both ends of the floor. He would finish with a double-double of 14 points and 16 rebounds to go with seven assists, three steals and a pair of blocked shots.
Of course the focus after this game in Clipperland will be on Paul George (25 points, eight assists) and Kawhi Leonard (17 points, six rebounds) and Lou Williams (team-high 27 points).
But their presence affords the Clippers’ role players like Beverley, an opportunity to make plays and be a difference-maker.
“You have to pick your poison,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens told reporters when discussing Beverley’s big game.
And Beverley made the Celtics pay for that, whether it was scoring, rebounding, finding teammates or knocking down 3’s.
It seems every time Jayson Tatum steps on the court, he moves one step closer to becoming the all-star, difference-maker so many believe he will eventually evolve into for the Celtics.
He led all players with 30 points on 12-for-24 shooting which included a game-tying 3-pointer in the fourth quarter that forced overtime. Making plays in the clutch is becoming something that Tatum is becoming more comfortable with which is great for the Celtics. We know that Kemba Walker is one of the best late-game scorers out there. But to see Tatum’s development along those lines bodes well for his future as not only a talented player in this league but potentially one of the best wings in the NBA.
It was a tale of two halves for the Boston Celtics when it came to 3-point shooting. First half, they were as bad as we’ve ever seen them with misses on 17 of their 18 three-point attempts. In the second half they were much better with 11 makes in 27 attempts.
There is no getting around the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers are a strong team defensively, especially on the perimeter with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard who together form the best two-way tandem in the NBA.
And to see Boston struggle so mightily on the perimeter, makes sense because of the aforementioned defensive stalwarts.
Don’t be fooled, people.
Boston’s struggles from 3-point range had more to do with the Celtics simply not making the most of their opportunities to take control of the game. While it’s understandable how they wanted to keep firing from 3-point range in the first half, those 3’s took away from Boston’s ability to get points around the rim which seemed to be a much easier path towards generating offense against the Clippers.
For the game, Boston scored 52 points in the paint on 26-for-45 (57.8 percent) shooting compared to the Clippers who tallied 32 points in the paint on 16-for-34 (47.1 percent) shooting from the field.
Finding a better balance of scoring at the rim and shooting 3’s will be key to Boston closing out their West coast trip with a win at Denver on Friday night.
When I told our Boston Sports Tonight crew that the player to keep an eye on in tonight’s game against the Clippers should be Brad Wanamaker, they had a hard time buying that which I could understand.
But here’s the thing.
A big game from Wanamaker - relatively speaking of course - was EXACTLY what the Celtics were going to need to have a shot at beating the Clippers.
And Wanamaker delivered with a season-high 14 points to go with five assists and a plus-minus of +6 which was better than all of the Celtics starters and second only to Grant Williams (+7) among reserves to log at least 20 minutes of court time.
With his playing time steadily on the rise (he played a career-high 30 minutes at Phoenix on Monday), it’s clear that Wanamaker has gained the trust of Brad Stevens and the coaching staff.
And the more you watch him play, you can see why. He’s a solid backup point guard who doesn’t wow you with any one or two things, but does enough when he’s in the game for most to understand that his play more than anything else, has a positive impact on winning.
Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Nuggets, which tips off Friday at 8 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.