Celtics gotta be sharper to beat the Spurs


BOSTON – On to the next one.

Win or lose, this has been the unspoken approach taken by the Celtics following games.


And while some losses certainly linger longer than most, the 105-102 loss on Friday night to the San Antonio Spurs won’t be one of them.

For starters, Boston hasn’t won on the Spurs’ home floor since 2011. And while Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili's best years are indeed behind them, both played important roles on Friday night after neither played in Boston’s 108-94 win over San Antonio on Oct. 30.

Parker had 11 points on 5-for-10 shooting with five rebounds and four assists while Ginobili had 11 points which included the game-winning basket with five seconds to play.

The Celtics did not play one of their better games but did enough good things that would have been enough to beat most teams in the NBA.

The loss says more about how resilient and connected the Spurs are as a team and organization than it does about any specific shortcoming of the Celtics (22-5), who despite the loss, still maintain the best record in the Eastern Conference.

“You have to play so well for all 48 [minutes],” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “We just had too many empty possessions. And they found multiple times throughout the game where they were in a rhythm of scoring and we just couldn’t break it. It was the difference in the game.”

Here are five other takeaways from the loss in San Antonio:

We saw two of the league’s top teams defensively go at it, but the Spurs’ were slightly better. They had a defensive rating for the game of 109.1 while the Celtics were at 115.9. That said, Boston still maintains the league’s best defense with a NBA-leading defensive rating of 99.4 (the only team with a defensive rating below 100.0) while the Spurs come in at No. 4 with a defensive rating of 100.8.

In the first quarter, the Celtics were whistled for six personal fouls with the only foul called against the Spurs wasn’t even against a player – it was a technical foul on coach Gregg Popovich, whose complaining about his players being roughed up by the Celtics found a receptive audience in the officials. The Spurs played a better game than the Celtics on many levels, without question. But it certainly didn’t hurt that San Antonio was whistled for 14 fouls compared to 22 against the Celtics. And those foul calls resulted in the Spurs making more free throws (21) than the Celtics attempted (17).

While there’s absolutely no reason to get in a panic, it’s worth noting how different the scoring in the fourth varied for the two teams. Boston, which has relied heavily on Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum to carry the offensive burden, were a combined 5-for-9 shooting in the fourth while the rest of the team shot just 2-for-9. The Spurs made eight baskets in the fourth with six different players, which speaks to the balance they displayed offensively that on this night at least, was good enough for the win.

When it comes to good play from the Celtics bench, they need at least one of the two Marcuses (Morris and Smart) to play well. Against the Spurs, both players failed to make the kind of impact Boston needs at either end of the floor. Morris had five points on 2-for-9 shooting and was among the handful of Celtics who had no answer for how to slow down LaMarcus Aldridge (27 points, 10 rebounds). And Smart, who hasn’t shot the ball particularly well all season, was 2-for-6 from the field which was actually an improvement on his overall shooting numbers this season. Still, he never seemed to get into any kind of flow defensively and his usual crisp playmaking wasn’t evident as well with him tallying more turnovers (three) than assists (two). Smart came into the game averaging 5.4 assists, tops among all backups in the NBA this season.

The Celtics continue trending in the wrong direction when it comes to rebounding. Despite being ranked ninth in the NBA in rebounding percentage (.515), the Celtics are in the bottom 10 in their past nine games (they’re 6-3 after having won their previous 16 games)in rebounding percentage (.480, 22nd in the league). On Friday, the Celtics’ rebounding percentage was just .459. 

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