Game Notes: Spurs at Celtics
Long rest for Spurs’ Big Three? No problem.
The Celtics are on the throne and boast team defense stats that the Spurs have yet to achieve this season. On the other hand, the Spurs have the tradition of excellence that Boston aspires to create. While they were in the role of the chaser, San Antonio is the gold standard that most others aspire to.
The culture of the team is set by Popovich, and it’s easy to see the atmosphere he sets just in the way he handles his pregame press conference. He shoots from the hip in a very stern, all business manner. The grizzled old timer has little patience for questions he deems irrelevant, brushing them off as he sees fit. Pop seems like the neighbor that will keep the ball that flies over the fence. Despite sitting in the second slot in the West, the crotchety Pop isn’t happy as he bemoans his team’s poor defensive field goal percentage.
Doc does his press conference on his side of a curtain that divides the two teams. All of a sudden, while Doc is comparing Rondo to Tony Parker, a face emerges from the side of the curtain. It’s none other than Pop. “That’s bull—-!” He jokingly yells. “Total Bull—!” Therein lies the balance of San Antonio—The ruthless discipline and then the levity. The structure and then the freestyle. Tim Duncan and then Manu Ginobili. The reason why everyone is scared to play them in May.
– Out of the gate, the Celtics are a step slow. This being their third game in four nights, I suppose they can be forgiven for being a little lethargic. Though some of the Celtics lull can be attributed to the Spurs’ methodical play. When San Antonio takes control and dictates the pace of the game, it’s almost beautifully boring. The deliberate place has seemingly lulled the building to sleep. It could be the early start, but you can almost hear a pin drop it’s so quite. Pretty much the opposite of the electric atmosphere of the Lakers game.
— The Parker/Rondo matchup is fascinating. It’s not often you see two of the quickest players in the League go head-to-head. So far, each has pushed the ball well, found the seams and shown a knack for getting to the tin. In a lot of ways Rondo is the pre-Longoria Tony Parker: quick as hell and can get to the rim but can’t hit a pull up jumper to save his life.
– Up top, Davis is left wide open some 20 feet from the basket. He thinks about shooting, but smartly wises up and passes it to Ray who then finds Powe for the finish. Looks like someone learned something from his dismal shooting performance against the Lakers.
– Aside from Big Baby’s jumper, the much-maligned Celtic second unit is performing well. Tony Allen has chipped in eight off the bench by taking it hard to the tin and hitting the open mid range jumper. Tony’s also surprisingly been initiating the offense for the second unit, freeing up House to operate off the ball. If Tony can do this consistently, it will go a long way toward Boston not missing Posey come playoff time. Though knowing Tony Allen, that may be like asking people to not incessantly argue about Kobe versus LeBron.
– So far, Matt Bonner has gotten the first step past the defense a lot more than one would think. Especially considering that the primary defender on him is none other than KG. He follows up a running hook shot with a jumper to put the Spurs up one, 44-43. Moments later, off a screen and roll, Bonner pops out, takes the pass from Parker and hits for 3. That’s a game-high 16 for New Hampshire’s finest. Never bet against a guy playing close to home. Unless, of course, it’s Stephon Marbury. That was almost too easy.
– As oppose to Bonner’s surprising performance, Duncan’s consistent excellence comes as no surprise. He sets up with the ball on the right block. He calmly waits for the play to develop. Cool and collected, he finds a streaking Mason for the lay in. Later, from the same spot, Duncan spins baseline for the effortless hook shot.
– So far, Ginobili has dropped in 10 points off the bench. Manu being Manu, he’s also doing a superb job of getting under Paul Pierce’s skin. Digging in, Manu forces Pierce to drive and doesn’t give him any clean looks from 3. Pierce, who pretty much always looks to be in agony when on the court, looked even more so against Manu. Though, as Appleman puts it, “When you stop and appreciate how good these guys—and their respective teams—are, you remember that criticizing Pierce for letting Manu get under his skin in February, is like grasping for a straw at the bottom of an amazing mixed drink.”
– Doc must have said something right because the Celts have jumped out on a 12-0 run to start the second half. A step quicker, they are out hustling Pops disciples. An offensive rebound by Rondo leads to a dunk by the Beast that is Perk. The next time down, a big flush by KG gets the place buzzing as everyone in green jumps out of their seats.
– As the crowd finally starts to wake up and the building gets louder, it’s worth noting how unfazed Pop and Duncan are through it all. After several empty possessions, Duncan takes it upon himself to steady the ship. Set up on the wing, he surveys the scene and rises up to drop in his textbook jumper off the glass. And just like that, everyone sits down and shuts up. 64-62, Boston.
– Paul Pierce’s Protracted Parlays put the Celts up six.
– Here come the Spurs. After Bonner banks in a 3, Duncan engulfs a layup attempt from Rondo. Ensuing break, Duncan’s layup pulls San Antonio within one. Then the next time down, a 3 from Manu puts the Spurs up two. Just like that, punch, then boom, counterpunch. The Spurs take Boston’s best shot and, in the words of fledgling mediocre rappers, “clap back.”
– Speaking of punches, the Spurs keep missing opportunities to deliver the big blow. After a blistering first half, their shooting has fallen back to earth as Bowen and Finely keep missing 3s from the corner. The third quarter ends with the Spurs shooting 33 percent to the Celtics 57 percent for the frame.
– Off of a switch, George Hill sets up on KG. Unfazed, the rookie drives left, and kicks into another gear to slide past the DPOY for the reverse layup. Not to say that his defense has slipped, but it seems like the demonstrative, bullying, ‘clapping in your face’ KG may be a thing of the past.
– Nice back and forth between the two best power forwards on the planet. On a break, KG gets ahead of the defending Duncan and takes the feed for a big slam that knots the game at 87. On the other end, Duncan pulls down the offensive rebound. He’s fouled on the put back and his old-fashioned 3-point play puts the Spurs up 3.
– After a timeout late in the 4th, the Celtics always take the court to Phil Collins’, “In the Air Tonight.” The song is a well-known KG favorite and he can often be spotted bopping along to it as play gets ready to resume. I’ve always wondered to what extent getting pumped up by a song actually helps ones performance. For today at least, there was a definite positive correlation between Phil Collins’ song and KG’s stroke as Garnett stepped up and hit back-to-back jumpers to put Boston up three, 93-90 with 1:36 left.
– The Collins magic is short-lived as KG misses a jumper with under 30 seconds left. Mason pulls down rebound and leads the Spurs’ break. Duncan sets a great screen to free up Mase. Roger pulls up, rises, and releases. Buckets. 95-93 Spurs. After missing his last four attempts from 3, Virginia’s finest deflates the Boston faithful and adds another chapter to his rapidly increasing book of big finishes.
– After a timeout, somehow, Ginobili steals the inbound pass. Somehow the pesky Manu ended up in perfect position for the swipe as Ray seemingly lost his grip on the ball. After a free throw parade and some desperation 3s, Boston takes the L.
“I like those moments,” Mason said after the game. I look forward to those situations”
Personally, I’ve been watching Mason do this for quite some time. It’s refreshing to see him make the most of this, the best opportunity he’s had to establish himself in the league. Though, in true Spurs fashion, he was quick to deflect any individual attention. In doing so, he highlights this unique position of the Spurs being the team that’s both the chaser and the chased.
“We have the most unified team. We don’t care who gets the credit,” Mason said. “The Celtics did that, all champions are like that.”