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Spurs overcome poor start to beat Celtics, 109-103

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Thanks to great performances by Kawhi Leonard and the bench, the Spurs moved to 9-0 on the road this season.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs remain undefeated on the road after beating the Celtics 109-103. Kawhi Leonard led the way, notching a double-double, while the bench contributed 56 points. Isaiah Thomas had 24 in the losing effort.

It was a slow start for the Spurs, who simply didn't seem focused. Maybe it was the noon tip-off time or maybe the energy the Celtics brought from the beginning, but San Antonio was completely discombobulated early. The interior defense was non-existent and everyone was losing their man in transition. Boston had a chance to run away with it when it reached a 14-point lead, but the Spurs' bench came in, matched the Celtics' intensity and got San Antonio back on track.

Despite allowing 32 first-quarter points, the Spurs only trailed by 10 after one. It could have been much worse.

The starters seemed to realize that there was an actual game going on in the second quarter. Without playing well, they at least started to grind out decent possessions on both ends. That prevented Boston from expanding its lead. Then Davis Bertans checked in and the Spurs finally found something that worked. The rookie, who had a great first quarter, made some plays and provided much-needed spacing.

With his contributions and a sharper Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio managed to make up for the early deficit. At the break Boston led by just two points.

Something tells me Pop addressed the lack of energy of some players, because the starters played with a lot more urgency to start the second half. Pau Gasol in particular looked much more engaged. San Antonio cut down on mistakes and took the lead, but Boston answered once again and the Spurs had to go to their bench to counter. Patty Mills, Bertans, Jonathon Simmons and David Lee combined for 14 of the team's 29 points in the frame.

After trailing by five with under two minutes to go in the period, three-pointers from Bertans and a buzzer-beater by Mills allowed the Spurs to carry a two-point lead into the fourth quarter.

By this point the Spurs were much looser and looking like themselves. Pop made the decision to sit Gasol for the entire period and Tony Parker for most of it, which paid off. The Celtics went small, which allowed San Antonio to have Leonard at power forward who wreaked havoc on defense. Kawhi also took over on the other end, with nine points and two assists. The game stayed close until the final minutes, but the Spurs were in control.

Patty Mills erased any chance of a late comeback attempt with a three-pointer that extended the lead to six with under a minute to play and Aldridge iced it from the line after an offensive board.

The Spurs are now 9-0 on the road and 13-3 for the season. They are still not playing at peak level, but that's not a concern in November. Considering all the new names in the roster, it's as good a start as they could have hoped for, so let's be just grateful for that.

Game notes

  • The bench kept the Spurs in the game. Bertans and Lee filled in admirably for Pau Gasol, who looked lost except for a brief stint in the third quarter. They combined for 30 points in 17 shots and Lee had 12 boards. Mills, meanwhile, was as efficient as those other two and closed the game when it became obvious there was no one for Tony Parker to guard. Even Jon Simmons showed signs of life in this one. Great stuff from the subs.
  • A small note on Bertans: I don't think there's anyone in the league who focuses as much on always boxing out as he does while still being unable to get a board to save his life. Fortunately the others gang rebounded when he was on the court. Even with that issue — which should be solved if he puts on some muscle — he was amazing on Friday. Hopefully he can continue to play at a high level going forward.
  • There's not much to say about Kawhi Leonard that hasn't already been said. He's clearly one of the best players in the league. On defense he stays in plays he has no business being in and on offense he looks smoother and smoother with every passing game. Other players might be logging more impressive numbers, but few can match Kawhi's impact.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge struggled with Amir Johnson's physical defense and showed almost as little mobility as Pau early on. He improved as the game went on and ended up making some big plays in the fourth quarter. Still not a great game by any means for Aldridge, but he at least came through when the team needed him.
  • The Spurs are at their best when Danny Green is playing well. They need his outside shooting (3-of-4 against Boston), but it goes further than that. When he's not making mistakes — a pass to Pop notwithstanding — and playing defense, he can be on the court for 30+ minutes. Considering the Spurs are not deep at the wing, that's big.
  • The Celtics are so hard to peg. They have a couple of glaring flaws — bad rebounding, lack of a true second option — that should disqualify them as contenders. Yet after a slow start you can see how they could be a team no one wants to face. Their perimeter defense is scary and Horford should help in the back line. They are still a trade away from being a real threat to Cleveland but they could go deep in the playoffs.

Up next

The Spurs visit the Wizards on Saturday on the second game of a back to back, or SEGABABA for short. Washington has been disappointing so far and doesn't have a bench, but their starters have the talent to pull off the upset, especially if Pop rests players.

For the opponent's perspective, visit the always great Celtics Blog.