A disappointing loss, but I'm not disappointed.
Yes, I wish we won. Yes, I wish we played better. However, I saw enough good in the game for me to be encouraged. In fact, the more I process the game the better I feel. The long drive up I-35 can give a man some perspective. So can a Full Moon Pale Rye Ale. Or two.
OH, one other thing. I got Sagered tonight. And I'm not saying I was wearing something hideous. So enter my good Spurs fan, and let's break this baby down.
[WV at 2:40p: Updated with JanieAnnie's pictures and a couple of Odds and Ends]
Lesson: If we all work together we can get this done.
Pre game, Pop had this to say in response to my question.
When you play a team as good as Boston you're gonna learn a lot about yourself at both ends of the court. It's good to be able to do that early in the season. If we do real poorly tonight it would be a shame to find out April 17th that we suck. If we find that out now, then we work at it and try to get better.
I figured he had a point. Tonight's game was about learning. Who we are? What we can do? What we can't do? And, if we suck. Consequently I outlined some thoughts and came up with some questions I wanted answered. Here are my pre-game notes:
- Has Tony gotten better offensively to attack Rondo?
- Can Tim score against a bruising big?
- Will RJ come alive?
- Can Manu, the one mismatch in our favor, eat up Allen?
- How do we match up with a talented high-scoring SF in Pierce?
- Can Bogans chase Ray Allen?
- Can Tony hang with Rondo?
- What kind of inside game do the Celtics have?
Intensity and Hustle:
- Will we match the Celtics physically?
- Will we match their intensity?
- Will our newer, younger guys help us get the loose balls, rebounds, and random plays that help you win big games?
Other: I had these three additional questions because I wanted to know how they would respond in a big game that promised to have some extra intensity and be a little more physical.
- What do we get out of McDyess?
- What do we get out of Hill?
- What do we get out of Blair?
That's where I was sitting before the game. I wanted to figure out what we had. Before we get to the answers though, I'll give you my random observations by quarter.
Lesson: These huddles are a lot quieter without the old man.
My first note to myself from before the game started.
All I want from tonight is to be proud of our effort.
We didn't get out to a horrible start in the first two minutes. We scored on two of our first 4 possessions including a Rage dunk, then gave up a 3-ball to Pierce and we were down by one. Then things went to hell. We had turnovers on our next four possessions. Five of the next seven and six of the next nine. Yuck! We found ourselves down only 16-10 after that abysmal stretch. Then things got worse. We missed free throws, going 1 for 5 in the quarter, and the Celtics started making shots. Just like that we were down 10, 25-15.
The ugly stats of the quarter:
- 6 turnovers
- 32% field goal percentage, 0-4 from 3-point
- 20% (1-5) free throw percentage
- DeJuan Blair made a bucket. FOR THEM.
- Points in the Paint was 14 to 8 them. I wonder if DeJuan's own goal counts as points in the paint?
Lesson: The house party dance doesn't always look so cool.
The Celtics bench features Rasheed Wallace, Marquise Daniels, Eddie House, and Brian Scalabrine. Yep, we made a run. We scored on 7 of our first 9 possessions -- one of the misses was a great open look for FinDog from 3 -- including 6 straight. All 7 buckets came right at the rim. When George ended the run with a layup and foul -- he missed of course -- we had cut the lead to 3 at 32-29. Accordingly to the play-by-play, here are the length of the Spurs shots in the run (in feet): 1, 3, 2, 1, 3, 2, 3, 1. In that streak we also missed a 3' and 2' shot. Blair had also missed an And 1 free throw so now we were at 1-7 as a team. I know this is Spurs basketball, but this was getting ridiculous even for us.
The Celtics then went on a 15-5 run, mostly against our starters, to extend the lead to 13. Thankfully, Manu hit a late 3 -- our only of the half -- and Tony drove for a layup to cut the lead to 8 going into the half. 47-39.
Stats of the quarter:
- One turnover: An ugly, lazy one by Manu where he just fumbled an easy pass out of bounds. Just strange.
- We were 0-6 from the perimeter.
- We scored on 8 of 13 possessions with all points coming in the paint.
- Points in Paint: 20 to 6 us.
- 2 for 9 from the free throw line
- 1 for 8 from 3-point
- 1, yes 1, first half offensive rebound for the Celtics
- Rebounds were 22-21 in our favor
Lesson: Yoga is good for the body. It also helps gives you inner peace which he will need for the fourth quarter.
Alright, the third quarter. Down 8 to a super-contender and we need to come out sharp. What do we do? Here are our first 8 possessions:
- Missed long two point jumper: Rage
- Made long two points jumper: Tim
- Missed short shot: Tim
I put those guys in bold just so you didn't miss them. That is an atrocious stretch of basketball. The one play of interest was RJ's turnover that led to a Rondo dunk. It was a side out of bounds play and Rage was the man triggering the inbounds. Tony came off a screen from baseline to the top of the 3-point line AND STOPPED. Rage through the ball to a cutting Rondo who went in for the dunk and Pop dutifully called a time out. Rage was PISSED. RAGING, in fact. He did one of those yelling arm-swing, punching motions at Tony. You see, Tony can't stop. He was to run through and curl toward the passer. Instead, he hung Rage out to dry. Boo Tony.
Oh yeah, out of the time out we commited the fifth turnover. Three of those five turnovers were Tim's. He was just sloppy with the ball. Watch out for the short bus Tim. Another game like that and we'll throw you under it. I kid. I kid.
We did fight our way back into the game, though the lead grew to as high as 15. Thanks to an athletic drive by FinPerro we cut it to six with 2:00 to go in the quarter. We did our damage with Hill, Duncan, Manu, FinDog, and Blair. George made free throws, Manu made a three, and Tim scored 8 points. Then, the play of the game happened.
Closing out the quarter for the last shot, up by eight, the Celtics ran a high pick and roll with Rondo and Rasheed. Manu was on Rondo. Blair was on Rasheed. When Rondo went left before the screen got there, both Blair and Manu chased him to the bucket. Rondo flipped a pass out to Rasheed at the top for a wide-open dead-straight 3-ball. Nothing But Net. Spurs down 11.
Pop was furious. Steamed. As DeJuan walked off the court, Pop was yelling at him with a hand signal bumping his fists together. DeJuan said something and made his own hand signal of fists pulled apart. That's where things got interesting. Usually, at a time out or between quarters, the coaches huddle out on the court near the paint for 20 seconds or so. Not this time. Pop went straight to his chair and started talking very demonstratively. I know I was a long way away, but if he wasn't tearing Manu a new one then I'm a monkey's uncle. Here's my guess. Manu told Blair the wrong defense. I think Manu called an audible. I don't think Pop liked it.
Your third quarter stats:
- 8 turnovers in the quarter
- 2-10 from 3-pt for the game
- 15-5 rebounding edge
Lesson: If they are going to score on you, make sure they do it playing the defense Pop told you to play.
Things didn't really start out well in the fourth for our guys. 30 seconds in Sir HotBod HandsomeFace got hit in his stitched up nose and left the game -- he said he is fine, by the way. Rasheed hit another 3 ball, The Green Matt Bonner hit a jumper, and Marquise Daniels scored. The lead was at 12 for the Celtics going to the 8:58 time out. That time out, by the way, came after a Mason turnover where he stepped on the sideline. He stepped on that sideline because Tony threw him a VERY high pass that when Roger caught it and came down, his foot was on the line. Roger's turnover, Tony's fault.
The The Beast happened. The game log looks like this. Blair 5' jump shot. Blair 2' layup. Blair 2' layup. Blair 1' tip shot. The last bucket was on the possession that was the game in a nut shell. Possibly the longest possession of the season for the Spurs.
Coming out of a time out and down six, Pop ran a great play that got Roger a wide open look from 3. Roger missed, of course. Tim tipped the ball out for a rebound. They got it back to Tim and he was fouled by Garnett. Tim missed both free throws, of course. Perkins fell grabbing the board and Rage jumped in for the tie up. Jump Ball: Perkins vs Rage. After about an hour of jockeying and Bavetta-ing, the Spurs managed to control the tip. Rage then missed another open 3 and Tim got the rebound, again. Tim missed the layup. Blair tipped it up and in. Down 4.
The Spurs got a stop when Ray Allen couldn't convert a tough layup. Roger pulled up and took an quick 3 that he missed, of course. Rondo came down and hit a jumper and that was the end. Lots of fouls and time outs, but that was pretty much it. If you throw out the late fouls, we held them to 87 points. Not a bad night of defense when you add in our offense's 20 turnovers.
Stats for the fourth:
- Rebounds were 18-6 us and 55 to 32 for the game.
- 0-6 from 3 in the quarter
- 0-2 from the free throw line
- 5 turnovers: the box score has 4 but that's because they gave Rondo a blocked shot on his strip of Tony late in the game. I'm calling it a turnover.
Lesson: If you can't shoot, you'd better make some plays elsewhere.
Manu didn't play in the fourth quarter until the last 30 seconds when the Spurs needed a big play. It was a great play, but ended in a turnover. Of course. I have three reasons why I think Manu sat.
- Pop is limiting his minutes. He played 18+ minutes again tonight. Same as Philly.
- The guys in the fourth played really well together. In fact, Tim didn't even come in until the 4 minute mark.
- Manu didn't play that well when he was in. In fact, somebody described his game as "schizo". I'm not saying her name, but she was at the game. He was 4-12 with 3 turnovers.
I wonder though if it didn't have something to do with that end of third quarter play. Pop was mad. Really mad. If I am Manu's coach, there is no better way to punish him than not let him play. So here's my hypothesis. Pop is all about execution. Be in the right spot when you are supposed to be in the right spot. Manu's entire game is based on freelancing. His uncanniness is what makes him great. These two things have a hard time co-existing. The great dilemma becomes how do you get somebody to freelance within the system? How do you allow Manu to be great, but still allow his teammates to trust that he will be where he needs to be? The guess here is that Manu isn't executing enough of Pop's stuff yet. Of course, I could be full of crap and Manu just doesn't have his game back yet.
Honestly though, I'd bet it is partially everything. If you had a guy who wasn't 100%, wasn't playing well, wasn't executing your game plan, and the guys on the court were doing really well, would you put him in?
Lesson: Making these makes the guy on the left happy.
The Spurs talk constantly about learning the system. Trusting each other. Etc. Pop, pre game, said it is a challenge when 60% of your starters are new to the system and 53% of your team. I think playing a defensively focused team like Boston, who have all played together for 2+ years, shows where the team is lacking the trust in one another. For the parts of the game where our starters were against theirs -- the beginning of the first and third quarters, our offense was terrible. The passing was hesitant. The movement was poor. I think this is because your margin for error is so small. Boston crowds passing lanes. They challenge passes. They did down on drives. The help screeners. They get hands up to cover for back cuts. As an offense, unless you KNOW that a guy is going to be there, you hesitate on a pass. By that time, the defender has completely covered him up.
This is why I am not disappointed. I think it is just a bit of ugly that we have to put up with.
Lesson: This isn't very comfortable.
I'm not really down on him. He wasn't making his shot and was 3-13 from the field. But if you go back up to my questions, and look at Paul Pierce's stats, PP didn't do much. 8 points. 2-9 from the field. 2 rebounds. That's a really good job of defense in 35 minutes.
Lesson: Playing defense really counts for a lot around here.
Bogans and Antonio
I wasn't impressed last night with the Bogeyman's work on Ray and offensively he didn't bring much.
Antonio wasn't much of a factor for the second game in a row.
These two had the worst +/- of all the Spurs at -16 and -14. See comfort level section above.
Tony vs Rondo
Mostly a draw. Both have their strengths and both have their weaknesses. I don't think Tony had a particularly good game, his passing was very sloppy at times, but he wasn't owned either. Rondo is ridiculously quick. It was a good match up.
Lesson: We better keep working on that free throw shooting.
Lesson: RJ, you are watching the wrong guy for pointers.
Just wow. 20 points (two for them), 11 rebounds, 2 blocks. And he did it against one of the biggest and best front lines in the league. He scored on all three of their bigs -- Wallace, Garnett, and Perkins -- at different times. He blew by Rasheed in the post. He went right up at Garnett and Perkins. Pop said before the game he'd be thrilled if DeJuan ended up being a small Moses Malone. Tonight he was. He also electrified the team and the crowd. His energy was what turned this game.
Mad props to Matt Bonner though as well. He didn't have a good game shooting the ball, but he was a great hustle guy tonight as well.
As an official member of the media, I can't really cheer for the team. I've been pretty good about it. I don't jump up and yell when we score or make a good play. I just give it a little fist pump like, "oh yeah", and go back to my note taking. Last night, however, I caught myself booing the officials. Haha. Good times.
They weren't very good. Either way. Mostly I thought they called things fouls that weren't. To see that there were only 36 free throws in the game -- 4 were end of game intentional fouls -- tells me that these two teams know how to play effective defense. It was an intense and physical game without being ruined by too many calls.
The ATS Gets Sagered
I'm the first question.
If you read the initial quote from Pop at the beginning of this post and the 'Comfort Level' section, you know I'm thinking the Spurs are still learning the system and developing comfort. So, I think I'm throwing him a big softball-sized cream puff question when I ask, "Those turnovers to start the first and the third are with your 60% new guys is that partially attributed to that do you think, that guys aren't comfortable with each other?" Coach Pop, "Possibly. Who knows?"
I swear, I was dressed nicely and conservatively last night. No bright colors. No clown outfits. No Cubits-Ninja-Bot.
Odds And Ends
The Celtics have some strange pre-game choreographed dance they did after the introductions. It involved the entire paint area and guys were dancing around from corner to corner in a way I can't describe. Scalabrine was involved which made it really awkward looking.
George was very subdued after the game. I think he hates losing.
At the start of the second half, Ray Allen came down to take his position and stopped and shook hands with Coach Pop and the other assistant coaches.
At the start of the half time shootaround, Antonio McDyess and Rasheed Wallace talked for a little while and shared a few laughs.
Also at the half, Pop was razzing DeJuan about something. Then those two, RJ and Tim were yukking it up.
Rasheed looked hefty to me.
DK Wilson from Sports On My Mind who wrote this recap for FoxSports.com told me that he talked to Antonio and RJ before the game. Both of them said this is the hardest system to learn that they have seen. They both said that the Spurs are so precise and detailed that it just takes a long time to know what you need to do and that neither are comfortable yet. I think that says a lot when you are talking about guys that have been around a while. DK is a pretty cool guy who is also from Austin. He ended up sitting next to me and we chatted a bunch during the game. He has some good viewpoints and is definitely worth checking out.
You guys will probably remember this play, but you probably didn't see Pop's reaction. In the second quarter, George was bringing the ball up court and jumped to make a pass to RJ. Right then the Celtics defender stepped out and George was caught up in the air. He just tossed it up and was lucky that RJ came down with it. Before RJ even caught the ball, Pop had turned around and slammed the scorer's table. It's probably not a coincidence that George was super-aggressive and made layups on that possession and the next. I think it was these kinds of concentration lapses, along with Manu missing the pass that went between his legs and out of bounds, that irritated him.