Prior to the Game
I had some time before the game so I thought it would be interesting to write my expectations for both teams heading into tonight's clash. First, I do not think the Celtics are very good. Age and the loss of Ray Allen should really hurt them this season. So far, they've won six games and lost five. The six victories were not against playoff caliber teams; so in my opinion, their record actually overstates their worth.
Paul Pierce is their leading scorer thus far at 19.3 ppg, but he's shooting a lowly 41% from the field. While Tim Duncan spent the offseason toning his body, it seems Kevin Garnett spent it doing what he could to more closely resemble a walking skeleton. Rajon Rondo has hit the 10 assist mark for 34 consecutive games, but he has also averaged 3.6 turnovers per game this season. After losing Ray Allen to the Heat, the Celtics signed the much-beloved Jason Terry. When his shot is on, he's helpful, but when he is missing, he's Matt Bonner: no defense, no rebounds, nothing to distract from how annoying he is.
While reviewing the Celtics' team statistics for the season, one ranking caught my attention. They rank 30th in rebounds per game. Elaborating on that stat, they are 13th in the league in defensive rebound efficiency and 30th in the league in offensive rebound efficiency. The Spurs rank 23rd and 24th, respectively. The Celtics do not offensively rebound the ball and defensive boards have been an area that has severely wounded the Spurs in each game this season. It's a match made in heaven. If the Celtics do not crash the offensive boards, problem solved from the Spurs' end.
I think the Spurs will rebound after their loss to the Clippers in style tonight; if Pop allows it. Pop will greatly influence the outcome of this game by the lineups he chooses to play. Without Steven Jackson and Kawhi Leonard available, my fear is that his choices go terribly wrong, as they did in the second quarter disaster against the Clippers.
The two areas I'll be paying attention to are offensive rebounds for the Celtics and Pop's lineups. If both those go well, the rest of this recap should be blissful.
I really did write that before the game. The Spurs beat the Celtics 112-100 in a very competitive battle. The Celtics had one offensive rebound, and it wasn't until the final 96 seconds of action. That board did turn into two points for the Celtics, but the game was firmly in the Spurs' control by that point.
As far as Pop's lineups went, I could not be more pleased. At least one of the Spurs' Big Three was on the court at all times. In addition, Pop went to the old Twin Tower look for prolonged periods. Instead of a young Timmy and an older Robinson, Pop treated us to a young Splitter and a veteran Duncan. The two played extremely well together and it was that lineup that closed the game for the Spurs.
The first two and a half quarters of the game were hotly contested. While both teams were playing well defensively, neither team was to be denied on offense. The Spurs shot 58% from the field as the Celtics shot 53%. Biased Spurs fan that I am, I thought the Spurs were getting excellent looks and Boston was making difficult shots. Sometimes that happens and the Spurs lose (cough! firstClippersgame, cough!), but Tiago made sure San Antonio came away with the victory.
Let's begin with the negative notes. First, I think Nando de Colo is much better than he's played. A part of me wishes that Tony would miss a few weeks so he could play knowing that Pop can't bench him after a mistake. I think a lot of our new players (not to mention journalists) begin, and sometimes end, their career as a Spur intimidated by Popovich. They tend to play hesitantly, and that does not allow them to showcase their talent.
I think Nando will eventually start for an NBA team; admittedly, most likely not for the Silver and Black. He has that rare passing ability that makes everyone around him better. Pop does not play him as a true point guard, and he seems constantly out of position on the offensive end of the court. This isn't as much a negative note as it is a wish that he would get more playing time to impress the coaching staff.
I thought Danny Green played poorly. He seemed lost on the court. Yes, he had 10 points on 3-8 shooting with four rebounds, three assists and a steal, but with both Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson out with injuries, I expected more assertiveness from The Color of Money, and he did not deliver. In the fourth quarter, I found myself hoping Pop would sit him on the bench, and he eventually obliged.
Manu Ginobili had a decent game, but for those of us who worship at his altar, it was subpar. Even so, he led the team with a +/- of +24. Once again the point is driven home, even when not shooting well (just 2 of 8 for for 5 points) Manu makes sure everyone around him succeeds.
Gary Neal's shot returned in time for his start tonight. He shot 5-8 from the field, scoring 12 points. And these were not easy shots. Many of them were of the dribble fade-away variety that can only be described as pure.
Dejuan Blair scored 10 points on 5 of 7 shooting and secured 5 rebounds in 20 minutes of action. Blair only played 20 minutes because Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter had even better games. Let me float a theory your way. I think it's possible that when Pop called the entire team soft, in his post game press conference after Monday's Clippers game, it was actually directed at Diaw. As many have noted, Diaw's play has been weak. His intensity has been virtually nonexistent in the first 11 games of the season. This theory speaks so strongly to me because he showed up against the Celtics in a big way. He was face-guarding players off the ball, 30 feet from the basket. He was aggressively going after rebounds and even successfully led a critical fast break. He dove for loose balls and displayed a tenacity that has been missing since last year. Nice job, Boris.
Your Three Stars
Tony Parker scored 26 points, 12 of 17 from the field, while dishing 6 assists. He made several shots in critical moments of the fourth quarter that kept the Celtics at bay. Matching up against one of the best point guards in the NBA, Tony played anything but soft. He relentlessly attacked on offense and harassed on defensive. The despised Jason Terry could not miss for most of the game. Popovich decided to give Tony a go, and Parker made him proud. Tony simply put out the Jet's fire.
Tim Duncan just had another typical game. A standard 20 point, 15 rebound, 4 assist effort for the veteran. There's nothing much to talk about here. He barely surpassed his average of 18, 10, and 2.5. Ho hum.
Tiago Splitter was the player of the game. The details of the glory of his night are below, courtesy of FARS.
Jeff Green beats Diaw off the dribble to the basket. Tiago extends his arms straight up while under the basket. Jeff Green makes the shot and the officials call a foul on Tiago. (-15 official. You are awful at what you do. When you retire, I think you should teach in Chicago. Anywhere else, you wouldn't last a day.)
The official (that will eventually fail to educate Chicago teens but still get a paycheck) calls a technical on an assistant coach for the Spurs. The camera zooms in on the bench and all four coaches pretend nothing happened as Pop is off in the distance taking a swig of Merlot. (+5 for the assistant coaches. You don't want to claim that one.)
Tiago plays pick and roll basketball with Nando and Splitter cuts to the basket. He receives the pass and muscles it through Jeff Green for the bucket. No call. (+15 Tiago. Anger makes him sparkle.)
Tiago is called for a wrestling foul as he battles Wilcox for position. (+10 Officials. This officially woke the Sparkling Giant.)
Tiago steps in front of a charging Rondo and gets the call! Ladies and gentlemen, the officials gave the Spurs a call in the Boston Garden. (-10 Officials. David Stern does not approve.)
Tiago attempts to secure a defensive board and is hacked. The officials give the Spurs the ball but do not call the foul. (-10 Officials. That is not the call the league office wanted, and somewhere Sir Sterno is wishing he could bring Tim Donaghy back.)
Jared Sullinger thinks he has an open layup but OH NO HE DOESN'T!. Tiago comes from the weak side for the clean revenge block. Tiago is not satisfied as he sprints up the court, as the trailer on the fast break. Tiago receives a nice pass from Danny Green for a dominant dunk. (+10 Tiago! +10 Tiago!)
Jeff Green challenges Tiago at the rim and is denied. (+10 Tiago. Two blocks in a row for Sparkles? It really happened!)
Tiago played the game of his young NBA career. He finished with 23 points -- 9 of 11 from the field and 5 of 5 from the line -- 3 rebounds, 2 steals, a block (yes, only 1 credited although he clearly had 2) and an assist in 26 minutes; all while Matt Bonner received a DNP, Common Sense Decision.
It was a fantastic response to a poorly played game against the Clippers. The Spurs will face George Hill and the Pacers in Indiana this Friday. Expect the momentum of this win to roll into Indiana. You should really tune in.
[Unofficial FARS tally: Tiago: +45, Officials: -25, Assistant Coaches: +5]