If the Clippers deserve credit for anything in their 106-104 loss to the Boston Celtics on Sunday, it was their refusal to submit.
They came back from 19 points behind, pressed the Celtics continually in the second half and had a chance to tie the score in the final half minute.
In the end, it came down to a three-point basket by Paul Pierce with 2.5 seconds left that dealt the Clippers their second loss in three games of their Grammy road swing.
This is a trip that still has interesting possibilities, but only if the Clippers can figure out how to eliminate lapses like the ones they endured Sunday at TD Garden in Boston and Friday night in Toronto.
They scored a season-low 10 points in the second quarter against the Celtics after a 12-point second quarter against the Raptors. That’s simply too big a hole for any team, even one as good as the Clippers, to climb out of.
“We battled, we had our chances, but we weren’t able to execute down the stretch,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said afterward.
The Clippers missed 14 of 18 shots in the second quarter but still shot 51 percent for the game. They lost because of turnovers – 20 that led to 33 Celtics points – and poor 3-point defense, a familiar problem this season. Boston, one of the NBA’s worst 3-point-shooting teams, converted a season-high 11 of 18.
Bench scoring was also pivotal. The Celtics got 52 points from their reserves compared to 29 for the Clippers, although Jamal Crawford, who had his nose broken in Toronto and wore a protective mask but quickly discarded it, had 23.
The Celtics may have lost point guard Rajon Rondo for the season with a torn ACL, but they’re on a four-game winning streak and remain in the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. They looked ready to bury the Clippers, who beat them by 29 points in December.
They led by 19 at halftime before the Clippers slowly sliced away at the deficit, closing to within 15 after the third period and then going on a 15-3 run after Boston took a 98-83 lead with 9:48 left.
The Clippers got to within two points, 103-101, on a 3-pointer by Eric Bledsoe, who had a season-high 23 points and 10 assists, and they had a chance to tie when Blake Griffin rebounded a miss by Jason Terry with 43 seconds remaining.
Del Negro opted not to take a timeout – it would have been his last – but Crawford still hit what appeared to a game-tying shot before he was called for an offensive foul on Avery Bradley.
The Clippers then allowed the Celtics to let the clock wind down from 26.6 seconds to just 2.5 when Pierce buried the 3 that sealed the win.
Asked if there was some confusion on their final possession, Del Negro said, “No confusion, we just didn’t get a good screen and we forced it a little bit. Tonight was a game where we fought back well, obviously had some chances, but we turned the ball over way too much and we’re a little bit out of synch with the rotations and injuries we have. But that’s no excuse.”
The Clippers also don’t want to use the absence of point guard Chris Paul as an excuse, but there’s no denying they miss him badly. They won their first three games when he went down because of a bruised right kneecap, but they’re now 5-5 in the 10 games he has been on the sideline nursing his injury.
Paul told Prime Ticket before the game that he’s getting better, but he did not have an expected date for his return.
Given their 1-2 start on the eight-game trip, an appearance on Monday night in Washington would be welcome sight.