BOSTON — In the end, it was just another loss the Clippers suffered to the Boston Celtics, 106-104, on Sunday afternoon at TD Garden.
The Clippers could talk all they wanted about rallying from a 19-point deficit to pull to within two points, but it was that big hole they dug in the first half that put L.A. in that position in the first place.
The Clippers could talk all they wanted about missing All-Star point guard Chris Paul (bruised right kneecap), but the Celtics also were missing Rajon Rondo (season-ending torn ligament in right knee) and they still won their fourth straight game with their All-Star point guard sidelined.
The Clippers could talk all they wanted about playing tough opponents on the road, but they are now 1-2 on this trip that has five more stops.
"It makes it tough to be down by 19 at the half and have to try to fight back," said Blake Griffin, who had 20 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. "It's promising that we did fight back and I like the fight and we didn't give up. But still it's a loss and a loss is a loss."
The toughness and defense that were missing in the first three quarters were things the Clippers displayed in the final 12 minutes.
They outscored the Celtics, 27-14, in the fourth quarter and had opportunities to tie the score.
Eric Bledsoe, who had a career-high-tying 23 points and a season-high 10 assists, made a three-pointer with 56.3 seconds left to pull the Clippers to within two points, 103-101.
After another missed Celtics shot by Jason Terry, the Clippers got the ball back.
But Jamal Crawford was called for an offensive foul against Avery Bradley with 26.6 seconds left.
"I didn't feel the contact," said Crawford, who scored 23 points despite playing with a broken nose. "Honestly, I felt like he kind of took a dive a little bit. But it worked in their favor."
Paul Pierce, who had 22 points, then put an end to the Clippers' comeback attempt, hitting a three-pointer over Matt Barnes with 2.5 seconds left for a 106-101 Celtics lead.
When asked whether he had considered having someone foul Pierce to extend the game, Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said he did not.
Instead, Pierce dribbled almost every second off the 24-second clock before delivering the dagger.
"You play the percentages," Del Negro said. "We went back and forth with it. We just felt we could get it done."
Even without Rondo, the Celtics opened a 59-40 lead at the half.
The Clippers allowed the Celtics to make 52.6% of their shots in the first half, including 55.6% (five for nine) of their three-pointers.
When Bledsoe went to the bench with 3:16 left in the first quarter after picking up two fouls, the score was tied at 25.
That left the Clippers without a point guard to run the offense
When Bledsoe returned with 6:28 left in the second, the Clippers were down by 13 points and all the momentum had shifted toward the Celtics.
It meant that Crawford was the point guard, a role that is not best suited for the scoring two guard.
And it meant the second unit remained out of whack and unable to be as productive as it has so much of this season.
"Our second unit hasn't been whole in a while now," Crawford said. "With Bledsoe being with the first unit, I'm playing more point guard. That changes my mentality as well. Everybody is trying to patch in to be everybody's backup."