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San Antonio at Boston, Final Score: Spurs win nailbiter over Celtics in Murray’s return, 99-97

It wasn’t always pretty, but the Spurs looked much better with their best player back.

San Antonio Spurs v Boston Celtics Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

On the fourth game of their seven-game road trip and coming off a demoralizing blowout in Toronto the night before, the Spurs finally got their best player back from COVID protocols, just in time to win a nail-biter against the Boston Celtics. In a tight, defensive-minded game where the Spurs’ largest lead was 6 and the Boston’s 4, the Spurs overcome a slew of mistakes in the final minute to take the victory, 99-97, and end their four-game skid.

Murray led the Spurs with 22 points on 11-21 shooting, 9 rebounds and 12 assists in his return, while Derrick White and Devin Vassell had 17 points each. Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 30 points, while Jayson Tatum was held to an inefficient 19 points on 6-20 shooting.

Observations

  • Gregg Popovich wasn’t going to take any lapses early after last night’s performance, and sure enough he called a timeout just 53 seconds into the game after White missed a three on the opening possession and Brown juked him for an easy layup on the other end. It took a few more possessions before the Spurs got into a rhythm, but they finally did and even took a five-point lead thanks to Murray getting some early looks to fall and Devin Vassell once again being the hot hand in the first quarter with 9 points on 4-5 shooting. Unfortunately, the Spurs didn’t get the memo that Brown was coming off a 50-point performance, and he got too many easy looks for 14 points in the quarter, which ended tied 30-30.
  • It has been somewhat inevitable the last few games with Murray and Lonnie Walker out, but hopefully the Tre Jones / Bryn Forbes lineups end once Lonnie is back. It brings back memories of the defensive liability the micro lineup of Forbes and Patty Mills was, and although Jones is a better defender than Mills, he often gets stuck in a mismatch, not to mention he isn’t nearly the offensive player Mills was to compensate. The point is 6’2” Forbes shouldn’t share the floor with anyone the same size or shorter than him because he can’t be hidden on defense.
  • Jock Landale provided a spark off the bench with six quick points to start second quarter, and the Spurs got the lead as high as six, but both teams continued to hang tight, going back and forth and always having an answer for each other. The Spurs finally got the memo and stayed home on Brown, only allowing him four points in the quarter, and the half ended with the Spurs up 58-56.
  • The third quarter was more of the same but more defensive-minded, with the Spurs winning the quarter 22-21 for an 80-77 lead. Brown again got hot for 10 points in the quarter, but he didn’t have much help, and the Spurs able to clamp down on everyone else. Jakob Poeltl finally got going on offense late in the quarter after laying a goose egg for up until that point, getting a putback and wide open dunk after the Celtics defense had a miscommunication and just left him there for the Spurs last four points of the quarter. He also got their first two buckets of the fourth for eight straight points.
  • Keita Bates-Diop is just a solid player. He doesn’t do anything spectacular (outside of that one game against the Lakers), but he’s a good defender, hustler, is always in the right place on both ends, and makes the right decision the few times he has the ball on offense. He’s the type of workhorse player that every team needs.
  • Maybe having some of the playmaking burden removed from him thanks to Murray’s return helped Keldon Johnson mentally, but he started working his way out of his recent offensive funk. It was good sign when he hit his first three-point attempt of the game, and he finished with 13 points on 5-10 shooting (3-4 from three) and only one turnover.
  • The Spurs again built a 6-point lead in the fourth quarter, but again the Celtics fought back. The last two of minutes were especially nerve wracking as San Antonio hung to a precarious two-point lead. First, White drew a successful charge on Brown in transition that was close but held up after video review showed Brown initiated the contact with his elbow. Later, Murray and Dennis Schroder exchanged buckets before Murray got an offensive rebound on the Spurs next possession, but his tippy toe was out of bounds. The Spurs then got a couple of stops but nearly gave the game away three different times. First, White was stripped of the ball at midcourt but recovered for a jump ball against Brown, which he won. Then, after the Celtics used their foul to give with under 6 seconds left, the Spurs barely called a timeout before the five-second count to inbound the ball expired, then Landale through the ball to the Celtics on the next attempt. Fortunately, Brown missed the layup attempt, and Marcus Smart couldn’t tip it in. It’s about time something went the Spurs way.
  • Murray was understandably a little rusty to open the game after his five-game hiatus with COVID. He was a step slow on defense and didn’t quite have the same bounce as usual, and yet you’d never know by looking at his stats and just how much better in general the Spurs looked when he was on the floor. He called plays and directed the defense, took over when the Spurs needed buckets down the stretch, and got his usual near triple-double line.

For the Celtics fans’ perspective, visit Celtics Blog.

The Spurs are headed to Philadelphia to take on the 76ers for the middle game of their Atlantic Division FIGASENI. Tipoff will be on Friday at 6:00 PM CT on Bally Sports SW-SA.