Celtics hit All-Star break with 129-119 loss to Clippers, dominated 56-36 in paint

With Rob Gronkowski watching courtside, Celtics lose third straight. Marcus Smart expected to return to practice following All-Star break.

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Tobias Harris and the Clippers were too much Wednesday for the Celtics. (Boston Celtics)

BOSTON — The All-Star break couldn’t come soon enough for the Celtics.

With Rob Gronkowski courtside under the visitor’s basket, the Celtics couldn’t rise to the occasion, getting outscored by 10 points in the final five minutes and falling to Doc Rivers, DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers, 129-119.

Behind the blazing shooting of Kyrie Irving and timely 3-point marksmanship from Terry Rozier and Al Horford made a run and led 99-95. But behind Jordan’s 30 points and 13 rebounds and 21 points from Tobias Harris, the Clippers outscored the Celtics, 34-20, down the stretch.

Irving finished with 33 points while Horford had 20 for the Celtics, who were dominated in the paint, 56-36 and hit the break with a three-game skid and a 40-19 mark.

After struggling badly from beyond the arc on Sunday in the loss to the Cavs, the Celtics started out much better from distance against the Clippers.

Jaylen Brown, who missed all five of his 3-point attempts Sunday, connected on his first.

But the biggest issue in the opening 12 minutes was interior defense. On five straight possessions, the Clippers drove with little or no resistance into the paint, scoring each time on layups or dunks. DeAndre Jordan single-handedly devastated the Celtics, going 5-for-6 with 11 points and seven rebounds in the opening quarter.

Down 31-17, Terry Rozier provided a spark with a steal and an alley oop pass to Tatum to cut the lead to eight. Still, the Clippers led 34-25 after one.

The Celtics continued the second quarter ice cold from the field, except for Marcus Morris who hit his first three 3-point shots. The Celtics at one point were 9-for-34 from the floor. And while continuing to struggle with pick-and-roll defense, the Celtics caught a break as the Clippers cooled off from the field and started committing careless turnovers.

A jumper from Al Horford with 5:17 left in the first half cut the deficit to 45-41. But the Clippers responded with the next five points for a 50-41 lead, en route to a 12-2 run that put the lead back to 14.

The Celtics got some desperately needed momentum before the half thanks to Al Horford and Terry Rozier. Horford blocked Jordan with seven seconds remaining and then Rozier followed with a buzzer-beating three in the face of Avery Bradley that closed the Celtics within four, 61-57, at the half.

Aron Baynes came out and drove to the basket and put back his own miss to cut the deficit to two and Jaylen Brown connected on a runner that tied the game, 61-61. Irving hit a pair of free throws to put Boston up, 63-61. Irving and Baynes would team up on another pretty offensive set as the Celtics continued to show signs of life in the third quarter.

An Irving three put Boston ahead, 70-67, as Irving scored 15 of his his 33 points in the third. But the Clippers responded with a 13-5 run, taking an 80-75 lead on two Jordan free throws with four minutes left in the third. Trailing 93-91 heading into the fourth, the Celtics caught fire.

Al Horford connected on a three for a 94-93 lead and then Terry Rozier’s trey from the left side put Boston up 99-95 with 9:58 left. But Lou Williams came right back with a three and a conventional three-point play to put Los Angeles back up, 101-99. The Clippers would add two more baskets for a 105-99 advantage with 7:49 left. The Celtics fell flat the rest of the way, dropping their third straight and fourth in five games.

Before the game, Brad Stevens indicated that Marcus Smart would likely begin practicing with the team next Wednesday when the team returns from the All-Star break and before they head out on the road for games at Detroit and New York. Stevens said he would likely have a bandage on the hand but nothing that would hinder his handle or shooting. Stevens also indicated that any discipline regarding the incident in LA would be kept internal.