The Spurs shot 58.4 percent from the field and were led offensively by Tony Parker’s 26 points and Tiago Splitter’s 23 points. Yup, Splitter scored 23 points. That pretty much says it all.
All 10 starters scored in double figures, but the Celtics’ ineffectiveness on the glass and down low did them in. The Spurs had 58 points in the paint and a 41-25 rebounding advantage. The Celtics did not record an offensive rebound until 90 seconds remained in the game, by which point the outcome was obvious.
Rajon Rondo had 22 points and 15 assists to extend his streak to 35 straight games with double-digit assists. At least for his sake, nobody will have to talk about a last-minute push to keep the streak going this time.
Fourth quarter, 1:35, Spurs 108-98: Splitter’s 21 points are easily a season high — we should not need to tell you that. Those 21 points (and counting) were more than a quarter of his total scoring output entering this game.
The fact that he also got a ticky-tack touch foul while being guarded by Garnett is another thing entirely.
Fourth quarter, 3:15, Spurs 104-98: Do not put this one in the books yet. Things looked bleak for the Celtics when Parker dropped a floater to give San Antonio a 12-point lead. But Bass responded with a jumper and Rondo got a steal and a jumper, followed by a difficult running bank shot, to get the TD Garden crowd back into the game.
Fourth quarter, 9:53, Spurs 89-76: That certainly did not go the way the Celtics wanted.
The opening 2:07 of the fourth quarter went all wrong for Boston. Neal, who looked so lost in the first quarter, drained a 3-pointer to spark a 7-2 run for San Antonio to begin the frame. Rivers could not call a timeout quickly enough.
End of third quarter, Spurs lead 82-74: At 36 years young, Duncan can still play ball. The two-time MVP center (and he is, and always has been, a center) quietly tied Parker for the team-high in scoring at 18 points entering the final quarter after notching 10 points in the third.
The Celtics pulled within two points, but the Spurs outscored Boston 11-5 over the final four minutes of the quarter to extend their lead and clearly appear to be the better team heading into the final 12 minutes. The Celtics did not have a single offensive rebound in the first 36 minutes of action.
Third quarter, 4:28, Spurs 71-69: This is the way the Spurs play, and it works for them.
Just as swiftly as the Celtics gave away the lead, they nearly took it back with a scoring flurry of their own. They say every NBA game is a game of runs, and the Spurs take that to the extreme. These two veteran squads were showing exactly how back-and-forth this affair could get.
Seventeen players have scored in this game, yet none have scored more than 18 points.
Third quarter, 6:08, Spurs 66-62: No matter what the Celtics throw at them, the Spurs do not seem to break. Behind a strong five-minute surge led by Garnett, the Celtics overtook San Antonio for the first time since 10 minutes remained in the first half.
After all that hard work by the Celtics, the Spurs blitzed back with six straight points, four of which came courtesy of — who else? — Parker. The Celtics’ hole on post scoring got wider as the Spurs more than doubled them up on points in the paint 32-14.
Halftime, Spurs lead 56-48: Boston fans love to think of their point guard as one of the best in the NBA and generally only include two other names in that discussion: Derrick Rose and Chris Paul.
Maybe if they are feeling generous, they will expand the conversation to include Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook and Steve Nash.
One guy who often gets overlooked is Tony Parker, but the four-time All-Star and 2007 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player can hold his own against any point man. He proved that in the first half by dropping 15 points on 7-for-10 shooting and leading an efficient Spurs offense that shot 56 percent from the field.
Defense was not much of a focus for either team, though. The Celtics shot 50 percent, and Pierce and Terry combined for 23 points against token defense. The problem for Boston came down low, as usual. The Spurs held a 21-13 rebounding advantage and had a commanding 26-10 edge on points in the paint.
Second quarter, 3:23, Spurs 47-44: It is never smart to second-guess Popovich. Still, it was weird to see the Spurs play so far off Bass. The defenders basically gave the Celtics power forward with the sweet shooting stroke two free jump shots, and both swished through the twine.
Since Pop is a mad genius, we will just assume that this is part of his plan to lull Bass and the Celtics into a false sense of security.
Second quarter, 5:55, Spurs 40-38: It finally happened. Jared Sullinger finally got the benefit of a bang-bang play.
The rookie forward has gotten his share of rookie calls, but he stepped in against Tiago Splitter and took the full brunt of the 6-foot-11, 230-pound big man’s bulk to draw a charge.
Second quarter, 8:27, Spurs 38-36: This Spurs squad has become more outside-oriented than many fans might be used to, but so far against the Celtics, they reverted to their old ways. The Spurs had 22 points in the paint compared to eight for the Celtics and got 20 points combined from Duncan, Blair, Splitter and Diaw. That might not seem like a lot until one realizes that this game was not even one-third done.
End of first quarter, Spurs lead 30-27: Two conclusions could be drawn from the first quarter.
Conclusion 1: Manu Ginobili cannot defend Pierce.
Conclusion 2: Rondo cannot defend Parker.
Neither of those conclusions are entirely accurate, but that was how it seemed in the first quarter. Pierce victimized Ginobili for most of his nine points, and Parker scored six straight points while Rondo could do little more than watch.
The biggest issue for the Celtics at the end of the first quarter was not taking care of the ball. After committing zero turnovers for the first 10 minutes, they coughed up the ball on three straight possessions, letting their one-point lead quickly turn into a three-point Spurs advantage. Maybe Boston just needs more Jet, who spent the final four minutes of the quarter on the bench.
First quarter, 2:50, Celtics 23-18: The Spurs might be the toughest team in the league to keep down, and the Celtics only had marginal success with that in the early going. This was a game of runs early.
The Spurs scored six straight to move into the lead for the first time midway through the first, but after Blair spun home a reverse layup to give San Antonio a 17-14 lead, Terry, Pierce and Rondo combined to score seven straight points as part of a 9-1 run to boost Boston into the lead. Terry was the first player in double-figure scoring after hitting four of his first five shots.
First quarter, 6:31, Celtics 14-13: Defense was more or less optional in the opening minutes, from the looks of it. The Spurs shot a blistering 67 percent from the field and the Celtics got an early boost from Jason Terry, who scored eight of their first 10 points.
Brandon Bass also came through early with a jumper against the Spurs’ sagging defense and a fastbreak dunk. Gary Neal, getting his first start of the season, may also have been getting his last if he did not start playing tighter on Terry. Neal got the quick hook and was
7:03 p.m.: Popovich has a reputation as one of the NBA’s most astute coaches, but the four-time champion coach hardly takes himself too seriously.
He maintained that “science is probably too strong a word” to describe his player development program, which has turned unheralded rookies like Blair, Leonard, Neal and others into major contributors. Yet he said this team’s development may be moving along faster than usual.
“It’s moving along pretty quickly because we’re older than dirt, No. 1,” Popovich said. “And everyone’s back, so we’re pretty quick on the uptake.”
6:45 p.m.: The stock answer Rivers could have given when asked about Milicic was that he was disappointed, emotional and sympathetic. Losing a player who faces the possibility of losing a parent is never easy.
But Rivers eschewed the politically correct answer for an honest one Wednesday. The Celtics coach admitted it was hard to stir any emotion, because he did not have much opportunity to get attached to the veteran center.
“It’s pretty much unemotional because I never got a chance, really,” Rivers said. “I’d have liked to have that opportunity. I thought we were building him, but you know how I feel about all that other stuff outside of basketball. I think that’s more important.”
In happier news, former undrafted free agent Gary Neal will start for the Spurs, according to coach Gregg Popovich. The Spurs are searching for another wing player due to injuries to small forwards Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson.
The projected starters appear below.
5:30 p.m.: Darko and the Celtics officially have parted ways.
A day after Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Milicic was “most likely” finished with the team, the Celtics announced Wednesday that they had waived the veteran center. Milicic asked for the release, according to Danny Ainge, the team’s president of basketball operations.
“The whole Celtics family wishes Darko and his family well,” Ainge said in a statement.
Milicic left the team last weekend to be with his mother, who is ill, in Europe.
8 a.m. ET: Two teams coming off discouraging losses will meet at the TD Garden for what could be an ill-tempered matchup.
The Celtics return home fresh off an embarrassing loss to the Pistons on Sunday, while the Spurs visit after suffering a loss to the Clippers that left coach Gregg Popovich embarrassed and enraged. Few teams pride themselves on consistent, professional effort like the Celtics and Spurs, and few teams failed to live up to that example like those two teams in their previous games.
In other words, everybody should be ready to go in this one.
Join us for updates and analysis from the TD Garden during the game, which tips off at 7:30 p.m. ET.