LA Clippers blow out Celtics in ‘measuring stick’ game

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BOSTON — From the playoff-like, detail-oriented team walkthrough on Saturday to Paul George insisting he play through a sore groin injury on the second night of a back-to-back, Ty Lue saw a very motivated LA Clippers squad hours before facing the Boston Celtics.

In what Lue described as a “measuring stick” game, the Clippers led by as much as 36 points and trounced the Celtics, 115-96, at a disappointed TD Garden on Saturday night.

The Clippers (30-14) are the hottest team in basketball, improving to a league-best 22-4 since Dec. 1. One of those losses was an embarrassing 145-108 loss at home to the Celtics on Dec. 23. While that defeat came without an injured Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers were looking for payback.

In their most impressive statement win of the season, the Clippers handed Boston its second loss at home this season.

“The guys were pretty motivated,” Lue said. “… When they came to L.A., they did us pretty bad. So guys were locked in.

“… This was a game [where] PG, we thought he might be out, but he wanted to play to see where we’re at. Just a measuring stick against a great team. We just wanted to kind of see where we’re at. We had that on our mind.”

Even though the Celtics (35-11) have lost only twice at home this season, both have come consecutively. The Celtics lost to Denver on Jan. 19, and this latest home setback came without the injured Kristaps Porzingis.

The Clippers held the Celtics to 36% shooting and blew the game open with a 21-0 run in the third quarter.

James Harden said it was the Clippers’ best defensive performance of the season.

“Against a team that was playing really, really well,” Harden said. “Especially at home. … We still got some ways to go, but this is a good test for us.”

Typically, this might be the type of game that the Clippers would struggle with in the past. It was the second night of a back-to-back after they won in Toronto on Friday night. They are at the start of a grueling trip that will see them play seven games in 11 nights.

George played in that Toronto victory while nursing a groin issue. It would have been easy for the Clippers to hold their star out to be safe, especially against a Boston team that went into the night with the second-best record since Dec. 1 at 21-6.

But the Clippers entered this season saying they needed to take the regular season more seriously. Their stars have avoided lengthy injuries, and the Clippers have been finding ways to win games even when they aren’t playing their best. Since a 3-7 start, the Clippers are 27-7.

On Saturday, George, Harden and Russell Westbrook combined to shoot 9-for-31. George scored 17 points, but Harden had only nine points and Westbrook scored just four.

But defensively, the Clippers challenged shots, holding Boston to 22-of-75 shooting in the first three quarters. The Celtics got 21 points from Jayson Tatum, but Jaylen Brown and Jrue Holiday combined to shoot 5-for-24 and score a total of 15 points.

Leonard, who made 10-of-15 shots and finished with 26 points, agreed with Harden that the Clippers’ played outstanding defense. But the two-time Finals MVP is focused on taking the Clippers to a first-ever NBA Finals appearance.

“I’m happy that we were able to come in and give the Celtics a loss,” Leonard said. “But it really doesn’t mean nothing until you get to the playoffs and you’re doing the things we did tonight — executing, making shots, playing good defense.

“It’s good that we had carryover from last night coming from Toronto and winning these back-to-back games. But you got to just keep getting better as the year goes on.”