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Depleted Clippers put together strong second half to beat Celtics

Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. drives against Boston Celtics center Al Horford.
Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. drives against Boston Celtics center Al Horford during the first half Wednesday in Boston.
(Mary Schwalm / Associated Press)

The private jet lifted off a little after 8 a.m. in Southern California with a flight plan for Boston and two Clippers carrying the most valuable possession amid a surge of COVID-19 cases that has ravaged NBA rosters: a clean bill of health.

Starting point guard Reggie Jackson did not play later Wednesday upon his arrival here because his workout on the TD Garden floor before tipoff was his first time on a court since he entered the league’s health and safety protocols eight days before. It was the first step in a ramp-up process the Clippers hope will allow him to play on the last two stops of this trip, in Toronto and Brooklyn.

The other passenger, James Ennis III had played against the Clippers only two nights earlier as a Brooklyn Net. And 24 hours before tipoff, he hadn’t even yet signed a 10-day contract with the team. Then rookie Brandon Boston Jr. entered protocols, and a deal was quickly reached, along with a spot on the Cessna booked.

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Touch down came less than four hours before tipoff.

Brandon Boston Jr. joins Reggie Jackson, Jay Scrubb and Moses Wright in the NBA’s health and safety protocols ahead of Wednesday’s game vs. Celtics.

Each could play valuable roles in the coming days for a rapidly depleting roster. But on this night, they watched from the sideline as Marcus Morris’ and Eric Bledsoe’s shooting was enough for the Clippers.

For that matter, so was Boston’s.

Morris and Bledsoe combined to score 17 consecutive fourth-quarter points in a 10-minute span to ice a 91-82 victory, playing off one another perfectly to finish with 23 and 17 points, respectively.

“It was more like, ‘You go get it, I’ll go get it,’ Morris said. “Just make the right play.”

Boston (16-19) felt it was making the right plays as well. Of its 42 three-pointers, 39 were catch-and-shoot opportunities that typically yield the highest accuracy. Yet Boston made just four three-pointers overall and missed its last 15 from deep, leading to the second-worst performance ever by a team taking at least 40 three-pointers, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

Clippers center Ivica Zubac and guard Eric Bledsoe celebrate a basket.
Clippers center Ivica Zubac and guard Eric Bledsoe celebrate a basket during the second half against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday in Boston.
(Mary Schwalm / Associated Press)

“I just think playing a lot of zone got them out of their rhythm,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “I think that’s what hurt them the most.”

Boston’s 82 points, despite 21 offensive rebounds and 101 shots, are the fewest scored by a team with at least 100 attempts since the three-point line was ushered in in 1976.

“Oh wow, they did miss — oh wow,” said Terance Mann, his eyes growing wide while looking at a box score.

“A lot of them was open too,” Morris said. “No knock to them, but s---, I would’ve never missed that many wide open. That’s all I can say.”

The Clippers have maintained a confidence that their whole, even tattered, is greater than the sum of their parts. Three contributors are out because of injury and three more are in the league’s COVID-related protocols. Morris said his breathing has “felt funny” since returning from COVID protocols Monday. And Bledsoe woke up in Boston feeling under the weather, and worried because of it, even though his symptoms did not match up with the Omicron variant, he said.

The Clippers open a three-game trip in Boston on Wednesday without three primary ballhandlers, causing coach Tyronn Lue to reconfigure the offense.

They had plenty in reserve, it turned out. It helped them overcome a second straight game where reserves struggled to generate points without an experienced point guard, shooting five for 17 overall. Serge Ibaka had four turnovers and the Clippers (18-17) were outscored by 12 in his minutes and he didn’t play in the second half.

A lineup using forward Justise Winslow at center helped spark a 12-6 close to the third quarter, and after Boston took a 72-71 lead with 9:30 to play in regulation, Bledsoe’s, Morris’ and Boston’s shooting were too much.


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