Wow, talk about turning the tables. A couple months ago, the San Antonio Spurs were smashed by the Boston Celtics 135-115 in a listless letdown in the AT&T Center that sparked an eight-game losing streak. Tonight, the Spurs were the ones doing the smashing as they began a difficult four-game road trip in spectacular fashion with a 129-114 victory to improve to 16-20.
The starting five has struggled to outscore opponents this season but they were able to annihilate the Celtics from the jump. Seven minutes into the game, San Antonio was up 22-3. As that score suggests, the starting unit played strong defense and precision, movement-heavy offense.
The Celtics were able to mount a bit of a run to end of the first quarter, trimming the Spurs advantage to 34-22. The good guys countered with a strong start to the second quarter — a 15-5 run, to be exact — to increase their lead to 22 points. The rest of the half, the Spurs were able to hold onto an ample cushion and boasted a 65-47 lead at intermission.
The Spurs haven’t played well coming out of halftime recently and that was a problem once again tonight. A 9-0 run by Boston trimmed San Antonio’s lead to seven points halfway into the quarter. But, again, the Spurs had a counter. This time, it was a 17-3 run that put the good guys back up by 21 points, 93-72.
Entering the fourth, the Spurs had a 99-83 advantage. The Silver and Black never gave an inch, kept the pressure on and the Celtics surrendered with more than five minutes remaining with the Spurs up 21 points.
A blowout win over the Milwaukee Bucks and a blowout win over the Celtics in Boston? It’s safe to say the Spurs were able to carry forward some of their momentum from the Bucks game while serving a cold dish of revenge to the Celtics. Great pair of wins — there’s no other way to state it.
Spurs at Celtics – Final Grades
Offensively, LaMarcus Aldridge finally cooled down from three-point range (1-for-5) but used his size and strength advantage to still produce decently well on that end. He hit 4-of-6 two-pointers, passed the ball extremely well and it was obvious that the Celtics had gotten the memo about his improved three-point shooting, so Aldridge’s mere presence really helped the spacing. Defensively, I thought he was really good. His protection of the lane was superb and he was active and attentive on nearly every possession. The gameplan called for Aldridge to clog the paint and he did just that.
DeMar DeRozan’s exemplary play continues. Tonight, he sliced and diced his way to hitting 10-of-17 field goal attempts. With muscle and grit, he got to the line ten times. To go along with his 30 points, he was also playmaking well. He had the Celtics flummoxed all game long: don’t send help and DeRozan scores, do send help and DeRozan finds an open three-point shooter. Defensively, I thought he paid attention and really took the challenge of trying to slow Boston’s talented perimeter players. Overall, when DeRozan plays this type of smart yet ruthless brand of basketball, his value as the head of the snake skyrockets.
This was another really solid game for Dejounte Murray. He had a handful of mistakes woven into his play, like usual, but he also produced across the board. Offensively, he took it upon himself to attack more than usual and the results were usually positive. He had a few really good passes while on the move and the growth of his confidence in his actions on that end is obvious. Defensively, he hounded Boston’s guards, helped out in the paint when needed and seemed to scoop up every loose ball in his vicinity. It looks and feels like Murray is turning some sort of corner in his season and maybe his career.
After being sent to the bench a couple games ago, Bryn Forbes has responded. Particularly, his defense has been much better in his return to the starting lineup. He’s playing smarter on that end while also not allowing players to push him around as much. When Forbes hustles on defense and plays physically, he’s smart enough to be decent-ish — let’s hope this continues. Offensively, I didn’t love Forbes’ shot-selection but, hey, he knocked down the shots. Plus, a few of his buckets were momentum-changing scores. Add in a team-high six assists and Forbes had himself a fine ballgame.
The game looked easy for Trey Lyles. He was under control, took his time on his shots, hurt the Celtics with his penetration and well-timed cuts, and otherwise played the part of a modern stretch big on offense to perfection. Defensively, he had to defend a lot of talented players who are smaller than him and Lyles held up decently well. He made some mistakes on that end and his rebounding wasn’t as fierce as it’s been lately but Lyles’ fit in the starting lineup looked seamless tonight.
Patty Mills hustled, knocked down a few shots and made better than usual passes. His relentlessness seemed to rub off on his teammates and even though he didn’t have gaudy numbers, he was usually in the middle of the fray making a meaningful contribution.
Ouch. The dull spot of the game was the play of Rudy Gay. He looked slow, uncoordinated and unsure of himself for much of the contest. Whenever he tried to dribble or pass in close proximity to an athletic Celtics player, the result was usually a turnover, a deflection or something else unwanted. The release on his three-pointers appeared to be in slow motion, too. Defensively, he held up okay and rebounded well but he was such a downer on the offensive end that it was impossible to overlook.
Alright, see, this is the Derrick White I want to see on the offensive end. White checked into the game and just started attacking. No tiptoeing on the perimeter. No passiveness. White saw cracks and exploited them. When he plays that attacking-style, he adds a new element to the offense that makes it even better and ultimately will result in his teammates getting cleaner shots. Defensively, White was pretty good. He was springy and moving his feet really well — which helped him on both ends of the court.
Lonnie Walker IV
Lonnie Walker IV was the first swingman off the bench again and Marco Belinelli stayed glued to pine until trash time commenced. How did Walker do? Scoring 19 points in 19 minutes gives a good clue. Walker pushed the pace to score in transition, shot confidently from three-point land and then utilized his quick dribble moves to create mid-range jumpers. The Celtics had no answer. Walker saved his best for the fourth quarter when he hit three mid-range jumpers and then a back-breaking three-pointer. Defensively, I was also really impressed. He’s starting to use his elite athleticism on the defensive end and the results are exciting. He not only stays in front of players but he avoid screens really well and he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty in the paint.
I really liked what I saw from Jakob Poeltl on the boards. At both ends, he was fighting for good position and then going after the ball with gusto. His rim protection was solid, too. Truthfully, if not for a few unlucky whistles that went against him and reeled in his aggression on D, he could have been even more impactful tonight. Offensively, he only scored one basket but he passed the ball wonderfully and even helped out by being a threat to dribble and drive. Poeltl is clearly a really good fit for that second unit as it’s currently constituted.
So, is Pop now starting to try? Like the Bucks game, Pop came out with a gameplan that focused on how to gum up the Celtics attack. It worked really, really well. I’ve criticized the coaching staff for not doing any scouting work for a majority of the season but these last two games have been a big step forward. Let’s hope they keep it up. Other than his gameplan, his rotation made sense for the most part. Specifically, playing Walker fourth quarter minutes is great. Keep it up, Pop.
Up Next for the Spurs
On Friday, the Spurs travel to Memphis to take on the Grizzlies in their second game of the road trip. This will be another tough game because the Grizzlies have been playing well lately. Keep it rolling.