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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Boston Celtics

Can the Silver and Black end their four-game skid during a challenging SEGABABA?

NBA: Boston Celtics at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio has continued stumbling out of the gates to kick off the new year as the Toronto Raptors blew them out on the third stop of their long and winding seven-game road trip. A promising December had the Spurs in a prime position to join the Western Conference playoff discussion, but they are now sliding in the standings.

The Silver and Black visit TD Garden on Wednesday in search of their first victory of 2022, but the well-rested Celtics are a formidable opponent on the second night of a back-to-back. Former Spurs assistant and first-year head coach Ime Udoka is familiar with San Antonio’s system, and Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are tough to contain.

San Antonio Spurs (14-22) @ Boston Celtics (18-19)

January 5, 2022 | 6:30 PM CT

Watch: Bally Sports Southwest | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: Zach Collins (Out — Ankle), Devontae Cacok (Out — COVID-19 Protocols), Doug McDermott (Out — COVID-19 Protocols), Lonnie Walker IV (Out — COVID-19 Protocols), Dejounte Murray (Probable — Competition Reconditioning)

Celtics Injuries: Aaron Nesmith (Questionable — COVID-19 Protocols), Romeo Langford (Questionable — Illness), Jabari Parker (Questionable — Teeth), Brodric Thomas (Out — Back), Robert Williams III (Probable — Toe)

What To Watch For

  • The Silver and Black are 2-20 when falling behind by double digits this season, and they have landed in that circumstance in three out of their last five contests, which should come as little surprise given Dejounte Murray has been unavailable over that stretch. Thankfully, head coach Gregg Popovich told reporters he anticipates the sixth-year guard will rejoin the team in Boston on Wednesday night. San Antonio has sorely missed the scoring, rebounding, playmaking, and defensive contributions Murray brings nightly. Even if the Spurs end up placing the 25-year-old floor general on a minutes restriction, he figures to play an instrumental role in helping the good guys put an end to their ongoing four-game losing streak. Keldon Johnson has assumed an enormous amount of ball-handling responsibilities with Dejounte out of commission, and the third-year forward hasn’t been effective as a go-to option or decision-maker. Murray will alleviate a ton of offensive pressure so Keldon can resume doing what he does best as a straight-line driver and catch-and-shoot specialist.
  • Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are the fourth-highest scoring duo in the league, posting a combined 49.9 points per game as we close in on the midway mark of the season. The incredibly talented young tandem can score at all three levels, and they have a vast repertoire of moves that leave even the most seasoned defenders scouring for answers. Brown dropped a career-high 50 points on an efficient 19-of-29 shooting display versus the Orlando Magic in his last contest, and Jayson Tatum Celtics legend Larry Bird for the most points in a game in franchise history when he torched the Spurs for 60 points last season. Despite impressive individual outings, neither budding superstar has figured out how to translate their point-piling prowess into consistently impactful playmaking opportunities. Containing the Celtics begins with stifling Tatum and Brown, though that might be a tall task for a shorthanded San Antonio roster. Keita Bates-Diop and Keldon Johnson make the most sense from a size standpoint, yet Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Devin Vassell are probably the most disruptive on-ball defenders on the roster. Pop will likely throw a bunch of different looks at Boston’s studs, but they should still be wary of guys Marcus Smart, Josh Richardson, Al Horford, Dennis Schroeder, and Robert Williams III.
  • A few players entering health and safety protocols over the last couple of weeks have forced San Antonio to get creative with their rotations. Devin Vassell, Keita Bates-Diop, Tre Jones, and Devin Vassell have started since the Spurs started dealing with COVID-19, and while they have each had moments of brilliance, there’s no doubt the second unit has floundered a bit without coming off the pine. Doug McDermott and Lonnie Walker IV still haven’t been cleared to return, which means fans will see at least one of the previously mentioned trio remain in the starting lineup for the time being. Vassell has shot 42.1% from beyond the arc on an unfathomable 9.2 three-point attempts per game since becoming a starter, but that sort of firepower could be monumental elsewhere for the Silver and Black. The second-year swingman has displayed encouraging flashes with the first five, and perhaps that excellent production could provide San Antonio with a boost against opposing benches. Now is the time for the Spurs to get experimental, and finding minutes, touches, and shots for Josh Primo, Joe Wieskamp, and Jock Landale could pay dividends down the road.
  • Jakob Poeltl has averaged 20.9 points, 13.7 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per 36 minutes over the last five games, and White has posted 18.9 points and 11.1 assists across that span. Scaled numbers aren’t necessarily reflective of what a player can do, though they show how much heavy lifting those two have done without Dejounte Murray. Neither guy has logged a ton of minutes as of late, though that has more to do with Pop or the opposition waving the white flag early into a recent series of blowouts. While their efforts have only resulted in a 1-4 record, White and Poeltl have rebuilt some chemistry as pick-and-roll partners, and that could prove valuable as the Spurs ease Dejounte back into a high-usage workload. There’s no denying they raise San Antonio’s floor when the roster is mostly intact, and their positive influence will only grow as players come off the injury report.

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

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