Rehash: Shifty Spurs pull away from Celtics in the fourth

David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE

It's okay to admit you're too angry with the Warriors and Wizards to enjoy this recap. Lord knows I was when I wrote it.

Game 53 @Boston: Spurs 104, Celtics 92 Record: 38-15 1st in Southwest, 2nd in West Streak: W-1

The Celtics share their arena with the Boston Bruins, so maybe it shouldn't have come as a surprise that on their last game before the much-needed All-Star break, the Spurs decided to play some hockey.

No, there were no fights or rough-housing or goonish fouls, nothing like that. It was a clean game from a physicality standpoint, even too clean at times with the home side clearing loafing.

What I mean is that if you didn't watch the game and just looked at the box score, you'd be misled into thinking this was another cliche "team win," for the Spurs, with five in double figures, led by Tim Duncan's 25. Sure, it looked pretty, with the Spurs pulling off a 50-40-90 slash line as a team and combining for just nine turnovers, and it's not like the Spurs played ugly, per se, what I saw was one of the most individualistic games of the season, with different Spurs attacking the Celts in shifts.

Boris Diaw got the game going with a couple of layups against Brandon Bass. Then, in the middle part of the first quarter, Marco Belinelli scored six straight for the good guys, to stretch the lead to 15-4. Toward the end of the period it was native New Englander Matt Bonner, with a runner and then an open three, to make it 23-14.

After a three minute stretch of ineptitude to begin the second, Patty Mills scorched the nets with 10 of the next 12 Spurs points, including a couple of threes, to keep the Spurs in the game. Diaw ended the half with a couple more layups.

The third quarter belonged to Tim Duncan, who had all of two points in the first 24 minutes but scored 11 of the Spurs first 16 after intermission.

Mills helped out with six of the Spurs next 12 points overlapping the third and fourth quarters and then it was Duncan again, with 10 of the next 12.

The common string through most of the carnage was Belinelli, with a brilliant all around game of 16 points, a career-high 11 boards and a career-high-tying 8 assists, and there were flashes of brilliance throughout, including a soaring dunk from Shannon Brown and perhaps the most acrobatic bucket of Danny Green's career, a sweet reverse lay-up putback that looked remarkably coordinated for a fella who seems to be good for one air-ball a night.

Still, it was hard to notice how many Spurs had these moments of mini hot-streaks throughout the game, as if the whole squad was just so tired and they could just muster these brief bursts of individual brilliance before passing the baton to the next guy.

Or maybe it was just how the Celtics defense set up or a coincidence. I can only imagine Pop's eye roll if I proposed the theory to him.

Whatever it was, the Spurs were able to go into the break without too much stress or drama and were able to do so without the services of Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter. They'll now have six days off to take a breath and mend their wounds. Two of those gentlemen, if not three, figure to be in uniform by the time the Western leg of the Rodeo Road Trip tips off in Los Angeles next Tuesday. This has traditionally been the stretch of the regular season where Pop's teams come out roaring, before dialing it down in April prior to the playoffs.

I think what I'm trying to say is that while I appreciate the contributions of Nando De Colo, Matt Bonner, Jeff Ayres and Shannon Brown, I'm more than ready to see a lot less of them, and I think most Spurs fans feel the same.

However, I will add that Cory Joseph has really impressed me with his consistent play and effort on both ends of the floor over this past month and if any Spur deserves to stick in the rotation even with a full healthy squad, it's he, but I don't know how can work with Patty Mills also essential. Nonetheless, there's no doubt about it in my mind: Joseph is a legitimate NBA player and a quality backup point. I'd argue he's the tenth-best player on the team, and he's a lot closer to ninth than 11th.

Also, Joseph is from Canada, the home of hockey, and now we've come full circle.

(The Spurs aren't the only ones looking forward to the break.)

Standard Pop Quote:

"He had a tough first half, he just had a tough first half, but in the second half he was a monster; he led the way for us. I thought our defense picked up pretty good, the guys were filling in for the injured guys, just giving it everything they got. They got loose balls and really worked hard. It was a good win for us on the road, we're real pleased with it."

(Pleased, but not happy.)

By the Numbers:

17,922: The paid attendance at the TD Garden, named, I assume, because the Celtics thought they were going to draft Tim Duncan in 1997. Oops.

50.0: Spurs field goal percentage.

47.4: Their three-point percentage (9-of-19).

92.9: Their free-throw percentage (13-of-14).

9: Their turnovers. Combine those four things and it all adds up to one of the Spurs cleanest offensive games of the season.

1-of-4: Duncan's shooting line in the first half.

8-of-11: His shooting line in the second half.

-15: In 9:14 for Nando De Colo. Oh, Nando.

6: Days before the next Spurs game. Thank God.

Sequence of the Game:

With the Celtics clawing within six at 85-79 with six minutes to go following Rondo's ridiculous transition three, Duncan silenced the crowd with a short turnaround banker and then, following a 3-point miss from Jeff Green, Belinelli found Danny Green for a breakaway dunk, thanks to Boston's awful transition defense, prompting a time out from coach Brad Stevens. Rondo missed his first three of the night following the time out, leading to two foul shots for Duncan on the other end and then another bad turnover for the Celtics led to two clear-path free throws for Joseph and the back-breaking three for Belinelli as the Spurs retained possession. Just like that it was 96-79 with four minutes to go and game over. That clear-path call was fortunate, by the way, and could've just as easily been called an offensive foul on Joseph, who initiated the contact in my view.

Tweets of the Night:

And way better at basketball.

P.J. Carlesimo said during the broadcast that Wallace did an excellent job for him last year in Brooklyn, which goes a long way toward explaining why P.J. was doing color commentary tonight.

In a 35-way tie with 34 other Green shots.

Not sure why this is so surprising. Bigs who shoot long twos will thrive against the Spurs defense.

Pull-up threes in transition are shots you take when you just don't care. Or you're Patty Mills.

Random Observation:

During the off-season I was all but certain that the Celtics would trade Rajon Rondo, figuring that he wouldn't want to stick around for a long-term rebuilding plan. However, Rondo was quoted as saying that he'd developed a fast friendship with new coach Brad Stevens and now, having observed him closely, not only do I not think that Rondo will be traded, but I believe he is fully aboard the team's strategy of tanking. Rondo's one of my favorite players in the league and I couldn't believe how out of it he was mentally in this game. Maybe his intensity waned because the challenge of facing Parker wasn't there for him, but to me Rondo, who's clearly not 100 percent physically yet as he recovers from an ACL tear, is using these games to experiment more than compete. Against the Spurs he never looked to go to the rim and hardly ever tried to make a play for a teammate. Instead, he just chucked up a bunch of threes, which he's been doing all year, I think, so he can have another weapon in his arsenal next season when he is fully healthy. Still, it was weird not seeing him set everyone up for a bunch of open looks.

Oh, also, before the game after the lineups were introduced, Duncan and Diaw were engaged in a bit of last-minute tactical discussion, but Mills kept playfully whacking Diaw on the arm repeatedly and chirping at him until finally Diaw just turned and yelled at him, "SHUT UP!" Who says the Spurs don't have any internal dramas?

Your Three Stars:

3) Boris Diaw (41 pts): Got the Spurs off to a good start in the game and made Brandon Bass and Kelly Olynyk look positively silly at times --though the latter doesn't need much help there-- with his up-and-under fakes and twisting half-hooks. A Diaw who's hungry to score is a dangerous land mammal.

2) Tim Duncan (105 pts): After a lackluster first half where he didn't do much, Duncan took it upon himself to make sure the Spurs went into the break on a good note, scoring 23 points after intermission on 8-of-11 and sealing off the paint from Boston's motley crew of bigs.

1. Marco Belinelli (34 pts): 16-11-8 for Rocky, the first Spur to flirt with a line like that besides David Robinson and The Big Three, though I suspect that Alvin Robertson may have done it a time or two in the 80's. Remarkably, not only did Belinelli set a career-high with those 11 boards (it was only the second double-double of his career), but he also tied a career-high with eight assists, which he'd previously set in the Spurs first meeting with the Wiz. Belinelli has played 412 regular season games in the league, not exactly a tiny sample size, and I'd have to think it's pretty rare for a guy to set career-highs in both rebounds and assists in the same game.

Up Next @Los Angeles Clippers (36-18), Tuesday, Feb. 18: The Clips are about to tip off at home against Portland as I'm tappity-tapping away so that result is pending (Editor's Note: Clippers beat the Trailblazers 122-117), but their most recent game was a 45-point thumping of the hapless Brett Brown-led Sixers, in which they set a franchise record for margin of victory and led 46-15 after one quarter. They "only" shot 72 percent in that opening period, which seems a bit low for 46 points, so there had to have been quite a few threes and freebies in there, too. Blake Griffin is en fuego and became the first Clipper to score over 30 in three straight games before rout of Philly and he had 26 in that one and would've obviously gone over 30 if he played more. Also notable in that blowout was the return of Chris Paul, who finally made his way back into the lineup after missing a bunch of games with a sprained shoulder. The Spurs and Clips have traded home butt-whoopings against each other, with Lob City winning 115-92 on Dec. 16 (Parker hurt his ankle in the third quarter and the Spurs had a season-high 22 turnovers) and the Spurs returning the favor on Jan. 4 (Splitter had a season-high 22 but sprained his shoulder late in the third quarter) in a game where both Paul and J.J. Redick were out for L.A.

Last season, in much the same spot, where the Spurs struggled with some injury issues prior to the All-Star break (and post, as we'd discover), they opened eyes around the league with an emphatic 116-90 win at the Clips a couple nights after action resumed around the league. Parker had 31 in that one and pretty much stole Paul's lunch money, to really get the "Is this guy an MVP candidate?" talk started. Well, among Spurs fans anyway. San Antonio didn't have Leonard in that game but did have everyone else, including Ginobili trying to round his way back into form after a hamstring injury kept him out awhile. It will likely be the same scenario this next game, with everyone but Leonard available. Hopefully we'll have deja vu in the game.

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