It wasn't pretty but the Spurs beat the Celtics 95-87 to get their second win of the season. Poor shooting and at times lethargic execution kept them from running away with it against a young Boston team that never quit and found big contributions from its bench. In his best game since joining the team, LaMarcus Aldridge finished with 24 points, 14 rebounds and five assists while Kawhi Leonard pitched in 19 points of his own.
Games that start early always seem to give the Spurs trouble and Sunday's was no exception. Almost three minutes went by before they got on the board on an Aldridge free throw. Fortunately the Celtics weren't sharp either, which prevented them from capitalizing on the slow start. San Antonio snapped out of its funk first and actually took control and created separation.
The game was ugly, with neither team really executing but the Spurs' defense -- spearheaded by an energetic Danny Green -- was more consistent and the trio of Boris Diaw, Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili outplayed Boston's bench. The 10-point lead the Spurs had after the first quarter grew to 13 at the break.
Had it been a March game instead of the first of November, the Spurs would have put on the autopilot in the third quarter and won going away. But they don't have an autopilot yet.
The turnovers piled on and they stopped executing. The younger Celtics were the aggressors and only LaMarcus Aldridge seemed up for the challenge. Green couldn't connect on his three-pointers and Diaw and Ginobili struggled for a few minutes. Making matters worse, Pop decided to extend the rotation and play David West, who wasn't sharp after sitting for the entire first half. The Celtics only shaved three points off the Spurs' lead but the momentum changed.
Fortunately, Boston is still a couple of years and a star player away from being the type of team that will punish an opponent for not being at its best. First Aldridge and then Leonard responded when they cut the lead to four while Thomas, who struggled all game, missed two crucial buckets to keep them close. A thunderous Avery Bradley dunk got them withing five late but that's as close as they would get.
It's always a little frustrating to watch a game that shouldn't have been close go down to the wire but this early in the year the Spurs get a pass. They showed against the Thunder in the season opener how good they can be when engaged and energetic. All that they need to do in this three-game East coast trip is get wins and find ways to get LaMarcus Aldridge involved. They checked the two boxes on Sunday. For now, the results matters more than the process.
- The Big Three of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan surpassed Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish for most wins in the regular season by a trio in NBA history. It's a minor achievement considering their accolades but it's something that should be celebrated nonetheless. Congratulations!
- Pop wanted to get Aldridge touches. Whenever there was a stoppage in play long enough to draw up something, the play was for LA. It was needed, too, as both Duncan and Leonard sometimes ignored him in good position. It will take some time but the Spurs will eventually get used to the fact that they can now just enter the ball to the left block and get a good look more often than not.
- Parker and Duncan combined for just 13 points and seven turnovers. They are clearly adjusting to new roles. Parker is picking his spots on when to aggressively look for his shot and when to just get the defense moving before passing. Duncan is doing a terrific job on defense but hasn't taken 10 shots or more in three games yet, which explains why he looks out of rhythm on offense. They will be fine.
- Speaking of those two, they played under 30 minutes and Aldridge and Leonard didn't crack 35. Only Ginobili, who was on the court for 24 minutes, was over what might be considered normal minutes. It wouldn't surprise me if he's the only one to sit on Monday but Pop is unpredictable.
- Be honest, you didn't expect Boris Diaw and Manu Ginobili to look this good this early in the season. I sure didn't. Manu is driving to the rim and skying for rebounds while Bobo is actively looking for his shot and generally looking interested in what's going on around him, which are two things that can never be taken for granted when it comes to him. Those two along with Patty Mills and his boundless energy might be the best thing the Spurs have going right now.
- Unfortunately, the rest of the bench is not doing well. Kyle Anderson made a dumb mistake in his first stint and after just 32 seconds was pulled from the game until garbage time. Rasual Butler took his minutes and played some solid defense but his shot hasn't returned yet. West didn't leave the bench in the entire first half and didn't make much of a positive impact once he did. They will likely get more run on Monday. There's still plenty of time to get better.
- Danny Green's cold streak continues. He went 0-for-5 from three-point range and is now 2-for-15 for the season. He made up for his struggles in the first half by notching four steals and a block but the starters need him to hit his shots. I'd worry, but knowing Green, he will likely go 6-for-7 on Monday.
- I really like a lot of Celtics. Amir Johnson is a long time favorite of mine. Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley fight through every screen. Jonas Jerebko is a great player to have coming off the bench. I doubt they will win 50 games like some are predicting but I think they will make the playoffs. They still lack a star but they could have the Mavericks' and the Nets' picks in the next draft to either select one or make a trade. They have a bright future.
The Spurs will play Carmelo Anthony's Knicks on the second game of a back-to-back on Monday. Melo had 37 against the Wizards and they will be rested. It's still hard to see the Spurs drop this one but they have lost to worse Knicks teams, so they can't get overconfident.
For the opponent's perspective, visit Celtics Blog