The Spurs snapped a four-game losing streak by beating the Celtics in a game that came down to the wire and had plenty of sloppy moments that could have turned the tide either way. Dejounte Murray led San Antonio in scoring with 22 points in his return after missing five games.
The matchup was a little strange from the get-go, as the Celtics decided to start two big men against the small Spurs in a move that was surely aimed at dominating the paint. Early on, it worked. While San Antonio was getting its offense almost fully on jump shots, their opponent was forcing its way to the paint. Fortunately, the Silver and Black, who can be inconsistent when it comes to energy and physicality, were ready to match that intensity and made Boston work for those paint buckets. The concern was less about how the Spurs were going to fare on defense once the benches checked in and more about how the offense was going to hold up with no shot creators, since Dejounte Murray was on a minutes restriction, Somehow, the subs managed to get enough points to keep the game even after one.
With Murray checking back in to start the second period, the Spurs looked primed to make a run. DJ hit a a layup, Jock Landale got a quick six points off a three-pointer and an And-1 and the visitors took the lead. Unfortunately, the Celtics tightened things up on defense and found some quick points from Dennis Schroeder to keep pace. Neither team looked particularly sharp on offense the rest of the way, which meant no big runs. Mostly they traded buckets in a low pace game that turned physical and sloppy. The Spurs were mostly in control, managing to carve out small leads from time to time, but the Celtics always answered. It was a hard-fought second quarter, as reflected by how close it was, but it definitely wasn’t a pretty one.
If the first half suggested that the score was going to be low and the execution mediocre, the third quarter confirmed it. Both teams had players who had hot stretches earlier in Devin Vassell and Jaylen Brown, but no one else stepped up to join them. There was little flow to both offenses, with the exception of some minutes in which Murray was orchestrating things. The benches didn’t have anyone coming in and providing a spark. The Spurs remained in control, but they just couldn’t put together enough good possessions in a row to run away with it, in part because they couldn’t stop making small mistakes. The table was set for a final period that was going to be equal times close and chaotic, and that’s exactly what happened.
The whole fourth quarter was an entertaining mess, with Murray taking over but having to rest, White making mistakes on offense but making up for them on defense and Marcus Smart doing Marcus Smart things. But the end was just a comedy of errors. Up two with under a minute to go, Murray missed a jumper, got the rebound but stepped out of bounds. Smart missed a wild layup with 24 seconds to go in the next possession, but after the rebound, Murray passed the ball to White, who lost it and got tied up with Brown, which resulted in a jump ball. The Spurs won the jump ball, forcing the Celtics to foul, but Boston had a foul to go. After White failed to inbound the ball over Robert Williams, Pop called a timeout and had Jock Landale check in to be the inbound man. Landale inexplicably passed the ball to Brown, who ran up court and missed the layup at the buzzer.
Ultimately the Spurs won, which is all that matters, but if any recorded evidence of this game disappeared, I doubt anyone would complain.
- The officials really let them play on this one. The game was physical, but only 25 personal fouls were called. Low free throw games always benefit the Spurs, which are not great at getting to the line, so no complaints here.
- The bench wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great either. Landale had his moments and Bates-Diop did a good job on defense, particularly on Tatum, but the starters really carried the Spurs to the win.
- The Spurs couldn’t really run, which explains why their offense wasn’t better despite decent efficiency from beyond the arc and low turnovers. San Antonio had only 10 points in transition for the night. Fortunately they kept the Celtics to just six.
- Keldon Johnson, who was on a mini slump from outside over the past four games, made three of his four three-point attempts. Johnson played well in general, but forced the issue a couple of times. He’s still at his best when he lets the offense come to him.
- The Spurs kept their opponent under 100, which is huge for them after some bad defensive games, and apparently the key to their success.
Spurs are 6-21 when their opponent scores 100 or more— Bruno Passos (@bouncepassos) January 5, 2022
Play of the night
Defensive plays don’t normally get love in the Play of the Night segment, but Derrick White deserves credit for taking the risk to draw this charge on Brown and actually succeeding. The Celtics would have tied the game with that bucket and potentially taken the lead with the free throw.
3rd place (1 point) - Jakob Poeltl | Eight points, 14 rebounds
Poeltl showed off his offense against the Raptors on the first leg of the back-to-back and then went back to being rock-solid on defense and the boards and great at doing the little things the following night. His numbers aren’t impressive, but he outplayed the Celtics’ big men and didn’t make many mistakes on a night in which most others did. Derrick White (erratic but clutch) and Keldon Johnson (solid, but occasionally forcing things on offense) could have gotten the nod here, so I wouldn’t blame anyone for having them ahead of Poeltl.
2nd place (2 points) - Devin Vassell - 17 points, 6 rebounds
Normally players that only do well for one half don’t get a spot in these awards, but Vassell was a huge reason why the Spurs put enough points on the board in the first two quarters by logging 12 points as a weak side threat that didn’t need to dominate the ball. With Murray back, that’s what the team needed. Sometimes it feels like the Spurs are missing out on fully taking advantage of a good weapon by not feeding Vassell more off screens or letting him run some pick and rolls, but he’s still really valuable on his current role.
1st place (3 points) - Dejounte Murray | 22 points, nine rebounds, 12 assists
Murray returned after five games looking like he never left. Even under a minutes restriction Dejounte was extremely productive, coming one rebound shy of a triple double and making an obvious impact on both ends for a Spurs team that clearly missed him. He took over in the fourth before having to exit for a while and was his disruptive self on defense throughout. Hopefully Murray will not be limited in the next few games, because San Antonio is much better with him on the court.
Season leader board
1st - Dejounte Murray - 52pts
2nd - Derrick White - 40pts
3rd - Devin Vassell - 27pts
4th - Jakob Poeltl - 25pts
5th - Keldon Johnson - 23pts
6th - Lonnie Walker IV - 13pts
7th - Bryn Forbes - 11pts
8th - Thaddeus Young & Doug McDermott - 9pts
9th - Keita Bates-Diop - 5pts
10th - Jock Landale - 3pts
11th - Drew Eubanks and Josh Primo - 2pts
12th - Tre Jones - 1pt
Next game: at 76ers on Friday
The road trip continues with the Spurs visiting Philadelphia. The Sixers are having a tumultuous season, but won their last five, so they will be a tough opponent.