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Kawhi Leonard plays as Clippers eliminate Celtics

LOS ANGELES — The plan seemed simple. To keep the Boston Celtics duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown off the perimeter, all the Clippers had to do was shut them down, get them off the 3-point line and be ready to block at the back. .

In other words, defend and defend again.

“It’s definitely going to be a multi-effort defensive night,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “If we don’t have multiple efforts, it could be a tough night for us.”

Lue understood that and more.

The Celtics, behind Tatum and Brown’s accurate shooting, entered the game averaging 39.7% from beyond the arc, making any night difficult for opponents. Even Lue said both cause opponents to focus their energies to stop them.

“It’s tough. Jaylen is playing at a high level and Tatum is playing at MVP level,” Lue said. “Best duo in the league.”

On Monday, however, they weren’t necessarily the best pair on the court. That distinction belonged to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The two Clippers stars had 51 points and 15 rebounds in a 113-93 win at Crypto.com Arena.

George finished with 26 points, six rebounds and three assists, while Leonard had 25 points on 10-for-12 shooting to go with nine rebounds and six assists.

It’s what Lue and Clippers fans have been waiting for 28 games. Both stars healthy. Both on the ground at the same time. Both are moving well. Both score and come in big against the best team in the league.

The Celtics (21-7) entered the game with the league’s best offensive rating (121.0), the highest in NBA history, and with two players who were averaging 56.8 points per match. The only other teammates in recent NBA history to score higher were Shaquille O’Neal with Kobe Bryant (2000-01 and 2002-03) and James Harden with Russell Westbrook in Houston (1999-2000).

Tatum scored 20 points and Brown 21; combined, they made just 3 of 14 3-point attempts. As a team, the Celtics shot 9 of 36 (23.1%) from behind the arc, while the Clippers shot 10 of 25 (40%).

The hundreds of green-clad Celtics fans who came to Monday’s game were no doubt hoping to see their team tear down the Clippers. But the Clippers (16-13) had won the previous two games against Boston, both tight.

It wasn’t close.

The Clippers led by no less than 24 points (104-80) on a 12-foot jump shot by Leonard with 6:37 remaining, after a 3-pointer from 24 feet less than a minute earlier. The Clippers did not let go. Luke Kennard, who had recently seen his 3-point shooting falter, was 2 of 5 from long range and finished with 12 points.

Marcus Morris Sr. scored 13 points and John Wall had six points and four assists. Terance Mann contributed nine points and seven rebounds.

The Clippers extended a nine-point halftime lead to 71-57 on a layup by center Ivica Zubac off a pass from Leonard with 6:27 left in the third quarter.

Zubac had been listed as questionable earlier in the day due to a strained groin muscle he tweaked in Saturday’s game against Washington. But his difficulties on Monday were not so much because of his injury as four early fouls. He finished with four points and three rebounds in 17 minutes.

The Celtics struggled to hit from the outside early on, only managing three long-range shots in the first quarter and six for the half. Instead, they took advantage of the Clippers’ small formation for easier layups. Zubac was called for two quick fouls and sat out as Boston erased a 12-point second-quarter deficit.

Zubac came back briefly late in the second but returned to the bench after committing his third foul. But the Clippers haven’t lost their focus without their big man. They continued to slow down Brown and Tatum, who weren’t as much of a factor as the Clippers scrapped a 56-47 halftime lead.

REMARKS

A minute’s silence was observed for former NBA star Paul Silas, who died on Sunday. He coached the Clippers for three seasons (1980-83) and played for the Celtics (1973-76). …. Lue said Norman Powell (groin) is making progress with his rehabilitation, but there is no date for his return.

More to come on this story.



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