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Spurs can’t contain Celtics in another uneven performance

San Antonio once again find themselves digging their way out of a big hole.

San Antonio Spurs v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs have gotten into a habit of going down big in the first half, and fighting to claw their way out of the hole in the second. They let the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks build 20+ point leads in their last two contests. That trend continued in a 117-98 loss to the Boston Celtics, in which the Spurs trailed by 30-points at one point.

“It was much like the Atlanta game, they came out on fire, we couldn’t make shots,” said Spurs head coach, Gregg Popovich. “They are young, that happens now and again. In the second half, I think we outscored them.”

The game started fairly competitive. Boston is the best three-point shooting team in the league, and showed it early and often. They hit five of their ten first quarter threes, hitting some difficult shots along the way. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were excellent at creating their own shot even with a Spurs draped all over them. They finished the game with 24 and 21 points respectively.

Victor Wembanyama picked up where he left off in Atlanta with a hot first quarter. He started the game with 10 points, including a lob on a sweet set from Popovich and a pair of threes. The rookie faced some stiff defense from Al Horford and sometimes a second defender, but still managed to finish the game with 27 points and 5 rebounds.

The second quarter is when the wheels came off. The Celtics got red hot from deep, shooting 8-9 from three in the second quarter. Jrue Holiday hit three after three as Boston jumped out to a huge lead. The point guard finished the game with 22 points and hit 6 of his 7 three point attempts. San Antonio couldn’t find consistent offense and fell behind significantly. They were outscored 40-20 in the second quarter, and simply could not overcome that deficit.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying. Once again the recipe for success in the third quarter was playing in transition, and getting the ball in the hands of their aggressive scorers. Tre Jones orchestrated a run in the third quarter that got the Spurs within 15 points with his passing and ability to push the pace. The point guard finished with 9 points and 10 assists. Devin Vassell finally was able to shake loose agains Boston’s defense, getting to the rim at a higher rate than in the first half. Vassell finished the game with 21 points and got to the free throw line eight times.

“We are trying to get him to defense himself into the game, not jumpshot himself into the game,” Popovich said of Vassell’s games. “When he was driving it in the second half – that was a good sign. He’s done that before to get himself back in the ball game. Then shots start to fall.”

Despite going into the fourth quarter down just 16 points, the Spurs couldn’t keep up the momentum, as the Celtics started to heat up from three yet again. Before the midway point of the half, the subs were put in on both sides, and coach Popovich was already thinking about what to have for dinner (as he said in the press conference.) Boston finished the game shooting 47.4% from deep. San Antonio outscored the C’s in the paint 58-42, but couldn’t stop their perimeter attack. They’ll need a more even effort as they hit the road for a rematch with the Charlotte Hornets on Friday.

Game notes

  • It was another rough game for Keldon Johnson who couldn’t get much of anything to go. The wing has 5 points on just 2-4 shooting from the field. Johnson has been a breath of fresh air off the Spurs bench, but has struggled to find his rhythm late in games in the last two contests.
  • Dominick Barlow was solid off the bench with 5 points and 4 rebounds. He hit a three from the right corner for his second NBA triple. If he is hitting deep shots, that boosts his already exciting offensive potential. Popovich praised his energy off the bench while filing in for Zach Collins and Charles Bassey. With Collins slated to return in the next few weeks, Barlow has a limited amount of time to capitalize on this increased role.
  • An interesting comment from Popovich’s post game presser was that Wembanyama’s minutes restriction has been changed from 24 minutes to 27. That’s an incremental difference, but with the way the rookie has been playing, more minutes will be welcomed.

Play of the game:

This sequence sums up what makes Jones so effective. The pesky defense creates a turnover, he pushes the pace in transition, makes a nice move and then finds the streaking Vassell for a lob.

Next game: at Charlotte Hornets on Friday

San Antonio will head to Charlotte to take on the struggling Hornets, who the Spurs recently blew out at home.