Spurs fall apart in the second half in blowout loss to the Celtics
The Spurs suffered their third loss by over 30 points in the last four games in their visit to Boston. Despite starting out strong and keeping up for most of the first half, San Antonio just couldn’t compete with one of the best teams in the league and lost 137-93 to end a four-game road trip.
Even without Jason Tatum, it was hard to imagine the Celtics losing this one, but the start of the game suggested the game could be closer than expected. The Spurs’ offense was working at a really high level, as they logged no turnovers and moved the ball well to find open shooters. The cuts were crisp, the passes on point. On the other end, San Antonio was making the typical mistakes that have plagued them all season, but they were not fouling their opponents, which gave them more margin of error. It was clear that the Celtics were not fully focused early, especially on defense, but they still managed to get buckets despite being cold from outside thanks to a red-hot Jaylen Brown to keep the score close. After an entertaining opening period, the Spurs were up two.
It was impossible for San Antonio to continue to execute at the level they did on offense for an entire half, especially when the bench checked in, so the turnovers that didn’t happen in the opening frame started to crop up in the second. Making matters worse, a technical foul to Brown resulted in the Spurs getting five points in a single possession, which seemed to wake up the home team. The Celtics started to capitalize on turnovers to run or were simply attacking early before San Antonio’s defense could settle, and their shots started to fall. The Spurs responded by fouling a lot to compound the issues and really struggled when Zach Collins, who had a massive first half, wasn’t on the floor. With the home team locked in and the Silver and Black falling into bad habits, the momentum swung Boston’s way resulting in a 10-point lead at the break.
Once the Celtics took control of the game it was going to be a tall task for the Spurs to keep up. They tried early in the second half with a couple of buckets from the guards to cut the lead to single digits a few times, but eventually the home team pulled away. A few al Horford threes, some Jaylen Brown drives, a lot of stops on the other end suddenly Boston was creating some real separation. Sandro Mamukelshvili had some good possessions to tease a potential comeback and the ejection of Marcus Smart would have normally opened a window, but the talent disparity was simply too big, especially with Devin Vassell having an off night. There was no second response. As contenders do against the worst teams in the league, the Celtics got away with not being sharp early by flipping the switch and reaching their floor, which is higher than the Spurs’ ceiling.
The second half of the third quarter and the entire fourth were just garbage time, which is something Spurs fans have gotten used to this season. Boston’s lead reached 47 at one point and after Jaylen Brown got his 40-bomb, Joe Mazzulla emptied his bench while Gregg Popovich gave Julian Champagnie and Blake Wesley some minutes. In the end, the Celtics got another win that will help him secure a high seed while the Spurs got another loss that almost guarantees them one of the three worst records in the league and the best shot at the top pick.
- Zach Collins had another 20+ game and he was huge early, but he can’t be the centerpiece of an offense despite his versatile offensive game. At times the Spurs tried to force-feed him and it didn’t work. Collins pushing things a little on a night in which Keldon Johnson was in street clothes and Devin Vassell (nine points in 12 shots) wasn’t feeling it is completely understandable, but he’s clearly at his best when he can work within the flow of the offense.
- After a good game against the Wizards, the duo of veteran forwards couldn’t contribute much against the Celtics. Keita Bates-Diop and Doug McDermott combined to shoot 3-for-17 from the floor and missed eight of their nine threes.
- The starting backcourt of Tre Jones and Malaki Branham, on the other hand, did really well. Jones finished with 11 points and four assists and Branham was the second-leading scorer on the team with 15 points. Jones also created some turnovers, as well. With Devonte’ Graham struggling, those two carried a heavier burden and didn’t disappoint.
- Mamu continued to show how good of a pickup he is, getting 13 points, five rebounds and three assists. He got to play next to Collins for stretches and seems more comfortable as a power forward, but it’s good that the Spurs are also trying to see if he can handle minutes at center.
- Speaking of being able to handle some minutes at center, Dominick Barlow is struggling a bit with that assignment, getting into foul trouble often. Barlow is really young and intriguing but figuring out whether he can develop a shot and be a power forward or is destined to be an undersized center is hugely important for his career.
- Former Spur Derrick White is having a great season with the Celtics and showed off his versatility on Sunday. He finished the game with 18 points, eight rebounds, two assists, a steal and two blocks, doing a little bit of everything. He also hit three threes in a matter of a minute and a half at one point. In the smaller, more defined role he has in Boston White is showing that he can be a key cog on a good team.
Play of the night
Doug McDermott has 14 dunks this season after only logging five last year. The 31-year-old can still jump and he remains a master at moving without the ball.
Next game: vs. Utah Jazz on Wednesday
The Spurs will have two days off before hosting the Jazz. Considering they are six wins away from the Hornets and there are seven games left, it could be a good opportunity to play everyone who is healthy enough to suit up to see how they match up with another young team since it’s a home game and a win shouldn’t affect their lottery odds.