Celtics-Spurs Live: Kawhi Leonard, Spurs Pull Away in Second Half as C’s Lose 104-93

Courtney Lee, Jeff GreenFinal, Spurs 104-93: At least Jared Sullinger seems to be coming along.

Sullinger posted another strong performance with 19 points and 17 rebounds as the Celtics played the Spurs tough for 2 1/2 quarters before the defending Western Conference champs pulled away. From tied 48-48 at halftime to down by as many as 19 points in the fourth quarter, the Celtics showed there is still a big disparity between them and the league’s elite.

Jeff Green, Avery Bradley and Tony Parker matched Sullinger with 19 points for the game’s scoring high, but the Spurs got much more balanced contributions. The Celtics got just 16 points from their bench after Brad Stevens switched things around to put Kelly Olynyk and Sullinger in the starting lineup.

The Celtics’ road doesn’t get any easier. They return home on Thursday and wait a day to host the Pacers on Friday. Should be fun.

Fourth quarter, 2:48, Spurs 102-89: Move aside, Jimmie Johnson. The Celtics are the new “Five-Times.”

The Celtics’ losing streak is about to hit five straight as the Spurs have gone up by as many as 19 points in the fourth quarter. The Spurs have capitalized on nearly all 14 turnovers committed by the Celtics, many of them directly leading to the Spurs’ 20 fastbreak points.

Fourth quarter, 7:55, Spurs 92-78: The Humphries/Wallace group did OK, but it’s time to put in a real lineup again. With the Spurs extending their lead back into double digits, Brad Stevens issued a timeout to get some players he is more comfortable with back on the court.

Fourth quarter, 9:53, Spurs 82-74: Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace are in Brad Stevens’ close-out lineup, right?

Humphries and Wallace, who have been subjects of trade rumors, start the fourth quarter for the Celtics. Although they started shakily, Humphries was able to find a cutting Wallace for a layup and the Celtics are noticeably playing at a better tempo right now.

If it’s noticeable, then Gregg Popovich would notice it, and he has. The Spurs coach calls a quick timeout to gather his troops for the stretch run.

End of third quarter, Spurs 80-70: For a moment, it looked like the Celtics might weather their adversity. Then the Spurs did what the Spurs do.

Jeff Green missed a driving layup that would have cut the deficit to three points and Tony Parker popped in a floater at the other end in a three-point swing that could have been costly for the Celtics. But they recovered, at least temporarily, before defensive breakdowns and Kawhi Leonard’s emerging excellence stretched the deficit to double digits.

Leonard scored 12 of his 16 points in the third quarter alone, teaming with Parker to pick up the pace and force the Celtics to catch up. Avery Bradley did, for the most part, and now has a game-high 19 points. Now the rest of the Celtics need to follow.

Third quarter, 5:59, Spurs 63-60: The Celtics ain’t going down without a fight. Avery Bradley was woken back up by Jeff Green’s thunderous dunk and the Celtics are back within three points after an 8-2 run.

This time, it’s the Spurs who are a little frazzled. And it’s not easy to frazzle the generally unfrazzle-able Gregg Popovich.

Third quarter, 7:51, Spurs 61-52: Uh, oh.

Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard have had enough of this. The Spurs have sprinted out to a 13-4 start to the second half and suddenly the Celtics look a lot like the Celtics we’ve come to know and love over the last four games.

Kelly Olynyk, who had a fairly good first half, is getting an education from Duncan. Olynyk and Duncan got tangled up going for a rebound, and Olynyk reacted with slight frustration by yanking Duncan’s arm. Not surprisingly, Olynyk was hit with the foul.

The rookie never gets the benefit of the doubt against the future Hall of Famer, Kels.

Halftime, game tied 48-48: Transferring the bench’s production to the starting five turned out to be fairly simple for the Celtics. All they had to do was move the bench into the starting lineup.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens didn’t go with wholesale changes, but shifting Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk to the first unit has paid off. The Celtics’ starters are outscoring the Spurs starters 44-26, and more minutes for Sullinger and Olynyk have also translated to better rebounding numbers for the Celtics overall.

Sullinger has 10 points and 12 rebounds, while Jeff Green has been energized by the scoring help. Green has 11 points, matching Tony Parker for the game’s high.

Of course, now the bench is having trouble scoring. Brandon Bass’ four points account for all of Boston’s offense off the bench.

The Celtics are assuredly playing better than they did in Houston, not that that’s very hard. Beware of the Spurs, though. Nobody makes adjustments like Gregg Popovich and the Spurs have shown the ability to turn on their defense at any moment to pull away from better teams than the Celtics.

Second quarter, 2:32, Spurs 41-39: Avery Bradley is playing a heck of a game. So he’ll head to the bench.

Brad Stevens doesn’t have any choice after Bradley got called for two hard-luck fouls against Spurs point guard Tony Parker. Few players are better at drawing contact than Parker, and the refs have given the veteran plenty of respect.

The first whistle, which was Bradley’s second personal, was probably a legitimate reach-in. The second whistle, where Bradley simple rode a driving Parker through the lane and toward the block, looked like textbook on-ball defense. Bradley was not happy with the referees as he went to the bench.

Second quarter, 5:23, game tied 35-35: Once again, the Celtics’ reserves are giving the team a boost. Phil Pressey, Brandon Bass and Courtney Lee gave the Celtics a spark, and now Jared Sullinger is getting into his usual groove. Sully has eight points and eight boards despite playing against much bigger players in Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter on the Spurs’ front line.

Second quarter, 8:50, Spurs 31-29: Trailing the Celtics is not any place a team with the Spurs’ pedigree wants to be. So, like any really good team, they did something about it.

The Spurs turned up the defensive intensity by pressing 3/4 court to begin the second quarter and have predictably caused the Celtics problems. Boris Diaw, who now has a team-high eight points, has led the Spurs to a 9-0 run to take the lead.

End of first quarter, Celtics 25-22: Jeff Green has had a rough time of late, but nothing says as much about his struggles as the defensive matchup the Spurs chose for him.

Kawhi Leonard went to the bench relatively early and Gregg Popovich apparently felt comfortable placing Marco Belinelli, not a plus defender by any stretch, on Green. Although Green has capitalized with eight points, that’s a major statement about the way the Spurs view Green.

With Avery Bradley at the helm, the Celtics are taking what the Spurs are giving them on offense. That’s been a lot of midrange and long jump shots so far. The Celtics have mostly converted and are shooting 50 percent from the field, but they’re going to need to generate more easy shots to keep up with the Spurs. Right now, points in the paint is in San Antonio’s favor 16-6.

First quarter, 5:51, Celtics 14-12: Avery Bradley didn’t have his greatest shooting performance a night ago, but he’s not letting that affect him against the Spurs. Bradley has put up five shots in the early going and has already knocked down three jump shots.

The Celtics are clearly more comfortable playing at the Spurs’ pace, which is much more deliberate than the Rockets’. Still, San Antonio is a team that can hurry it up when necessary, and Tony Parker gets even better as the game speeds up.

7:13 p.m.: The Celtics’ bench has been one of the few productive aspects of the season thus far, even though the names and faces have changed on a seemingly endless basis. The second unit will get juggled again in San Antonio.

Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger will start against the Spurs, Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters. Vitor Faverani and Brandon Bass didn’t do anything specific to warrant a demotion — “It’s not like Vitor or Bass are the reason we’re in the predicament we’re in,” Stevens said — but losing four straight forces a team to make some decisions.

The Spurs are not the team you want to run into when you’re struggling, either. After years of breaking from their grinding defensive roots to take on a more fun-and-gun style, the Spurs have settled somewhere in the middle. They are in the middle of the road in scoring and pace, while vaulting to the top of the charts in defensive efficiency. And they never foul, not that that is relevant to the Celtics, who attempt the fifth-fewest free throws per game in the league.

The projected starters are below.

Celtics
Kelly Olynyk
Jared Sullinger
Jeff Green
Avery Bradley
Jordan Crawford

Spurs
Tim Duncan
Tiago Splitter
Kawhi Leonard
Danny Green
Tony Parker

8 a.m. ET: The Celtics cannot catch a break. Slipping and sliding as they are on their current four-game losing streak, the Celtics skid into San Antonio to meet up with the defending Western Conference champion Spurs.

Oh, goody.

The Spurs (9-1) are a winning machine once again, cruising along with the league’s best record — an honor they share with the Pacers — and only a loss to the impressive Trail Blazers to sully their record. By contrast, the Celtics (4-8) have dropped four straight for the second time this season and have looked lost in three of those four losses.

The always-productive Tony Parker and burgeoning star Kawhi Leonard lead the Spurs, who have fallen back to their old defense-and-rebounding ways after a few seasons of playing at an uncharacteristically breakneck pace. Tim Duncan is still flawless when he can play, but Boris Diaw has helped ease the big man’s burden. Once again, the Spurs are a solidly run unit led by Gregg Popovich, the best coach in the business.

Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 8:30 p.m. ET.

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