Clippers looking more complete in convincing win over Celtics

According to the record, one is the best team in the league, the other is perhaps the most mixed according to the eye test.

It was far too early in December to consider the possibility of a June meeting. But in a matchup of teams who started this season with legitimate championship ambitions, it was the Clippers who clinched a 113-93 win as they hope their volatile season has turned around.

Behind Kawhi Leonard’s most efficient offensive play this season, the Clippers overcame foul troubles and just average three-pointers and free-throw shots to extend their lead to as much as 16 points by the end of the third quarter Monday at the Arena.

Norman Powell is still not back in the form that made the backup Clippers guard one of the team’s most reliable scorers for much of November as he recovers from a groin injury.

But as the Clippers wait for their last injured contributor to return to the lineup, they received their best sign yet of Leonard returning to his own form, needing just three quarters and 25 minutes to set a season high with 20 points remaining with nine rebounds and six assists.

Running mate Paul George wasn’t nearly as efficient, but he did help the Clippers hold their own against Jayson Tatum and Boston’s Jaylen Brown in a must-see match between two of the NBA’s best all-around duos.

When Brown missed two free throws with seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, he was limited to just 16 points as he made one of his six three-pointers – and one of his four free throws.

As soon as he had the ball again, Leonard responded with a three, taking the lead to 22.

Since returning from injury at Charlotte a week earlier, Leonard and George had played almost all their minutes together in a bid for coach Tyronn Lue to try and make up for lost continuity. When an All-Star checked out, the other was usually right behind him, walking to a courtside chair. Lue changed tactics against Boston: When George checked out unusually early in the first quarter, after six minutes, Leonard stayed for another four minutes. And this time, when Leonard had to check out after 10 minutes in the first quarter, it was George who replaced him thanks to his breather.

Clippers guard Paul George and Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams battle for loose ball.

Clippers guard Paul George (right) and Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams battle for loose ball in the first half Monday at Arena.

(Allen J. Cockroaches / Los Angeles Times)

With a star on the floor at all times, the Clippers moved forward convincingly, making eight of their first 12 shots, even as starters Reggie Jackson and Ivica Zubac quickly ran into foul trouble, splitting the charged atmosphere in the building between Celtics and Clippers seemed to be fans. But it couldn’t completely dampen Boston’s firepower or avoid a drought. With a lead of as much as 12 points, the Clippers were then outplayed 17-3 during a five-minute stretch that spanned the first and second quarters to reclaim the lead.

Forced in part by foul problems when Zubac suffered a third foul before halftime, the Clippers ended much of the first half with a sort of small lineup, earning a win in Washington on Saturday by conceding just 23 points in the final 17 minutes. With wings and guards surrounding the duo of George and Leonard for nearly the last six minutes of the first half, the Clippers beat Boston by eight points and led 56-47 at halftime.

Then, when Zubac canceled his fifth foul five minutes from time in the third quarter, the Clippers stayed small rather than slotting in backup center Moses Brown or rookie forward Moussa Diabate.

Lue said he’s drawn to lineups where guard Luke Kennard is surrounded by four wings — the very lineup the Clippers turned to again with eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and held a 19-point lead.

“It’s pretty good that he’s shooting on the ground with our four wings that can protect, defend and rebound the basketball,” Lue said. “We have to work a lot, a lot more on that, just offense, but defensively we’re way ahead in this small line-up.”

Lue reiterated Monday that Powell, who has not played since Nov. 29, is attending on-court practices but has no timeline for his return. Before the injury, Powell was averaging 17.1 points per game while making 50% of his shots and 46% of his three-pointers. Clippers looking more complete in convincing win over Celtics

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