Two teams with championship pedigrees. Two teams stacked with veterans, guys who have been around the basketball world and back again. Two teams with their championship "windows" closing rapidly, with a lot invested in the playoff run that lies ahead this spring.
With that in mind, every win is a huge win — especially against another playoff-bound team when you're trying to get acquainted with the intense, no-holds-barred style that the NBA's second season has to offer. A game like this can serve as a barometer, letting you know if you're really playoff-ready.
Or if you're not.
It was a game between two evenly matched teams, both of which had plenty to play for, with playoff seedings in both conferences still very much up in the air. The game went back and forth — all Boston in the first quarter, all San Antonio in the second, practically deadlocked at the break. With two teams that are such good foils, the second half was bound to come down to who wanted it more.
You got your answer. With just 13 points in the fourth quarter and 30 in the entire second half, it's almost like the C's never showed up.
"I thought [the Spurs] came out with more of a sense of urgency in the third quarter," Paul Pierce said in defeat. "Just the extra-effort plays. It was a one-point game at the half, and we just didn’t make the second and third rotations. They were driving, being more of the aggressor, and had us on our heels pretty much all of the second half.
"They made the extra-effort plays tonight that we usually make. The team that you saw, San Antonio, the way they played is usually the way we play. We just got an old-fashioned butt whooping."
The Celtics are running out of room for whoopings. Pretty soon, they're going to start really counting. We're down to just nine games remaining in the regular season, five at the TD Garden. Not much time left for the Celtics to figure things out before playoff time.
Doc Rivers can dish out all the coach-speak he wants about rhythm and consistency. But ultimately, it comes down to real, tangible, in-game adjustments that this team needs to make before it's too late.
It's about chasing after loose balls. It doesn't matter whether you're big or small, old or young, rich or (relatively) poor. The Celtics need 12 guys that are ready to make hustle plays when they really count.
It's about making the extra pass. Every time Pierce or Rasheed Wallace or Nate Robinson rushes an ill-advised 3-pointer, that's another possession that a smart, unselfish team should have played better.
It's about good, smart, balanced, hardworking team basketball — a game we know these Celtics are capable of playing. Just not on Sunday night.
"It was one of those nights," Rivers said. "We played awful. I thought they wanted to play. The first quarter, I thought, was terrific. I thought the bench came in in the second quarter and just everybody went 'iso.' There was no ball movement at all with that group. And then after that, I thought the starters came back in, got us back into the game, and then the third quarter was awful for us. But I thought in the third quarter is when they stopped moving the ball offensively. And defensively we struggled all night."
The Celtics are one team in the first quarter and another the next. You want consistency? Well, they didn’t bring it.
The Celtics found themselves in a hard-fought game between two good teams with a lot to play for. And they weren't prepared for it. But they'd better get there soon — in a couple of weeks, every game will be this tough.
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