LOS ANGELES — Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.
1) Celtic’s second straight loss highlights absence of Williams, Horford
For the second-straight game, the Boston Celtics faced an opponent comfortable defending when they go smaller and more switchable. The Clippers are physical, their rotations tight, and they are maybe the only team in the league who can match the wing duo Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown — Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.
For the second straight game, the Celtics’ historically-great offense to start the season stumbled. The Clippers became the first team to hold the Celtics under 100 points for the game, and the first to keep Boston from scoring more than a point per possession (97.8 net rating).
“We made a conscious effort to make sure Tatum and Brown played in a crowd all night,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said.
Celtics’ coach Joe Mazzulla saw something different.
“When we’re healthy, when we’re fully healthy, I don’t think we have that problem,” Mazzulla said.
Mazzulla is right, and it’s what was most evident in the Clippers’ 113-93 win over the Celtics Monday night in Los Angeles. Blake Griffin is giving his best effort at center in the wake of Robert Williams (knee surgery) and Al Horford (personal reasons) being out, but it’s not near the same.
On defense, Griffin can’t play at the level of the ball anymore and the Clippers repeatedly torched his drop coverage and got to the rim. It was part of what got Leonard going on his best game of the season — 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting, nine rebounds and six assists. Leonard looked like a player getting his legs back under him after missing all of last season and a chunk of this one with knee issues.
“Only my ninth game, you can’t rush it,” Leonard said. “Yeah, just got to keep moving.”
“Kawhi Leonard came out really aggressive, I think that’s the best he’s looked all season,” Brown said. “They did their job, give credit to the Clippers.”
George added 26 for Los Angeles.
— NBA (@NBA) December 13, 2022
On offense, Griffin is not the athletic roll threat that Williams is, and he’s not the floor-spacing shooter Horford is. Both the Warriors and Clippers were able to take advantage of that and be aggressive defensively without paying the price.
Boston also just missed shots they usually make. The Celtics finished the game 9-of-39 from 3 (23.1%) and those misses were the other obvious turning point.
For the Celtics, it’s a reminder that as great as they have looked to start the season — they are still 21-7 and with the best record in the league — there is work to do. Part of that is getting healthy, and Williams could return as early as Tuesday night against Anthony Davis and the Lakers in the same building (he is questionable). The fact the Celtics have a high-profile back-to-back (it’s a TNT game) made it surprising Mazzulla left his starters in until the 3:16 mark of the fourth quarter in a game his team trailed by more than 20 with six minutes to go. (Mazzulla said he thought his team was starting to find a better rhythm late and he wanted them to get that feeling back.)
There are games like this with the Clippers where you see the outline of the contender some predicted before the season. It’s games like this that make you think “maybe.” The Clippers are deep, athletic, and are now 6-2 when both George and Leonard play. There’s a lot of season left for the Clippers to stay healthy and build chemistry, but games like this show the blueprint of what they might be.
2) Damian Lillard ties Blazers record with 11 3-pointers
There may be nothing more entertaining in the NBA than a red-hot Damian Lillard.
He was that Monday night as Lillard tied the Trail Blazers franchise record knocking down 11 3-pointers.
Lillard came out of the game with :34 seconds left in the third quarter and, because Portland was up around 20 the rest of the way on the Timberwolves, he never re-entered. That despite some calls to put him back in to get the record.
Damian Lillard on coming back in: “That would have been the thirsty thing to do so I knew Chauncey wouldn’t even consider it.”
— Sean Highkin (@highkin) December 13, 2022
Jerami Grant pitched in 24 for the Blazers, who cruised to the 133-112 win.
3) Cunningham to undergo season-ending shin surgery
If they weren’t all-in on the “brick for Vic” Wembanyama sweepstakes before, the Pistons are now.
Detroit’s star young point guard Cade Cunningham will undergo season-ending surgery on his left shin, which was expected but made essentially official by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
Cunningham is rumored to have been dealing with a stress fracture in his shin, he tried resting it for the last 17 games, but that was not enough. This is a long recovery, as noted earlier by Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes noted, but Cunningham should be back next season.
Re: Cade Cunningham: If he is managing a stress fracture of his tibia (shinbone), surgery would likely be season ending. The average time lost for stress-related tibia injuries that require surgery is 61 games.
— Jeff Stotts (@InStreetClothes) November 19, 2022
The No.1 overall pick in 2021, Cunningham has an impressive rookie season and started this season hot — 19.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and six assists a game – until the shin pain forced him to the sidelines.
The Pistons already had the worst record in the NBA before this news, so focusing on playing their young guys — and accepting the losses that come with that — is the natural next step. That also makes it more likely the Pistons trade Bojan Bogdanovic and other veterans at the deadline, with the Lakers and other teams already interested.