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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Boston Celtics

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The Spurs go for the season sweep against the Boston Celtics in Bean Town tonight.

NBA: Boston Celtics at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs, after falling behind big for the second game in a row, managed to fight back and came very close to beating the Houston Rockets Friday night on the first game of a three game road trip. Even though James Harden finished with 61 points, they were able to almost completely corral Houston in the 2nd half before some questionable non-calls and poor execution ended up dooming them. Now in 8th place out West after starting the week in 5th, the Spurs will look to make it 2-0 on the year against a Boston Celtics team that has had an up and down year and, quite frankly, should be much better than their record indicates.

San Antonio Spurs (42-31) @ Boston Celtics (43-30)

March 24, 2019|6:30 PM CT

Watch: FSSW| Listen: WOAI

Spurs Injuries: Dejounte Murray (ACL — out)

Celtics Injuries: Al Horford (knee soreness — questionable), Gordon Hayward (concussion protocol — out), Aron Baynes (ankle sprain — questionable), Robert Williams (back contusion — questionable)

No Slow Starts

In both of the Spurs’ two previous losses, they’ve had to fight back from big deficits early on to get in the game and have faltered down the stretch. The losses to the Miami Heat and Houston were both winnable games, as the Spurs showed by being in both of those losses until the very end. It will be important for the Spurs to be aggressive right out of the gate tonight against a Celtics team that is top 10 in both Offensive Rating (112.4, 9th) and Defensive Rating (107/4. 6th), which they do while employing a vast array of weapons and do-it-all players that have struggled to find consistency in the win column.

In the Spurs 120-111 win over Boston on New Year’s Eve, San Antonio tried establishing their two stars, LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan early and often, with those two accounting for 14 of their 27 1st quarter field goal attempts, on which they went just 2/14. With Boston thin at the center spot (Baynes is questionable with an ankle sprain, Horford missed Saturday’s game with knee soreness, and rookie Robert Williams left that game with with a lower back contusion), there should be plenty of opportunities for Aldridge to have a big night.

Kyrie Irving and Al Horford: Dynamic Duo

Kyrie Irving and Al Horford give Boston a plethora of great things. In Irving, they have one of the greatest pure scorers in the game, a dynamic point guard who does things with the basketball that leave you shaking your head in amazement, particularly when he’s looking to score the ball. Horford compliments him perfectly as the prototypical center in today’s NBA, with skills that range from spacing the floor with a mid-range and 3-point game, a knack for both passing and the concept of the extra pass, and an aggressive screener. He does all of this while being the rock of Boston’s defense, capable of switching on to a variety of players.

Early in their loss to the Philadelphia 76ers last week, their synchronicity and talents were on full display from the opening tip:

Horford gives Irving a pin-down right off the get-go and then spaces out towards the 3-point line. Horford has no problem taking and making that shot (he’s shooting 36% from beyond the arc this season), which forces Ben Simmons to come at him and contest. Irving re-spaces and gets a wide open 3, which he calmly knocks it down.

At the end of the first quarter of that game, Irving and Horford once again make the correct reads and it ends with Big Al kicking the ball into the corner to a wide-open Terry Rozier:

If the Spurs play the sort of defense they did late Friday night on James Harden, especially in transition, Irving will make them pay often with shots like this PU3IT (Pull-Up 3 in transition) he hit against them back in December:

Derrick White actually does a good job of staying in front of Irving here. He has to play Irving for the drive because there’s no help at the rim, should he come up and try to take away the 3.

Horford’s willingness and capability to do everything shows up multiple times a game. Here, he and Irving run one of the oldest plays in the book and the bedrock of most NBA offenses, the pick and roll:

They use the dribble hand-off to initiate the pick and roll, a Boston specialty that goes back to the days of Bill Russell and Bob Cousy. Horford stops his roll at the elbow and knocks in a jumper.

Horford’s ability to step out beyond the arc was on display against the Spurs in December when he went 2/4 from distance. Here it comes as part of a pick and pop with, once again, Irving:

The Spurs will have their hands full trying to contain these two and everything they do for their teammates on the road. The penetration and shot-making of Irving combined with the do-it-all nature of Horford make for a devastating duo. If Aldridge is aggressive early on and goes at Horford, it could lead to Boston’s possibly only big getting into early foul trouble.

Some well-wishes for Gordon Hayward

Gordon Hayward has had an up and down season in his return from a gruesome ankle injury that occurred on opening night of the 2017-2018 season. Playing the majority of games off the bench this season as Boston has tried to figure themselves out, Hayward has shown that the old Gordon is still in there somewhere on occasion, like he did against the Warriors two weeks ago:

I suspect that, if he were consistently playing like the Hayward of old, Boston would be close to running away with the East. He’s like Horford but in a small forward’s body, showing an ability and willingness to do a variety of things very well. Here’s to hoping he finds a way to put it all together, though (luckily) it likely won’t be against the Spurs tonight as he continues to work his way through the NBA’s concussion protocol.


Vegas Line: Boston by 2

Prediction: Spurs by 6

For the visitor’s perspective, please visit Celtics Blog.

PtR’s Gamethread will be up this afternoon for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.