We know this 15-day stretch of games is going to be brutal, and that it will most likely tell us where the Celtics will be come playoff time, and we knew better than to take the San Antonio Spurs lightly. Sure, our Celtics had just dispatched the Miami Heat like they were a lotto team, but Doc Rivers does a great job of keeping us humble, keeping our heads out of the clouds. Well, tonight the Spurs withstood our opening tip momentum and pretty much had their way with us in the first half, dominating the boards and using their size to race out to a 59-48 halftime lead. It really felt worse than that. Much worse. Honestly. Even with Avery Bradley coming off the bench for 13 first half points. Even with Paul Pierce filling up the stat sheet like the Second Coming of Rajon Rondo. Even with Kevin Garnett hitting his first two shots, even with Ray Allen back in the starting lineup, and even with forgotten man Sasha Pavlovic scoring 5 points before intermission.
Even with all that, because the Spurs were able to exploit the Celtics’ weaknesses – size, depth and rebounding – and nearly put this game away after two quarters. But not so fast. This edition of the Boston Celtics is a resilient bunch, and you knew there would be a comeback involved, you just didn’t know if it would be enough to get over the hump. And, beyond that, you didn’t know if there would be enough left in the tank to stay over the hump if they got there.
Well, the Celtics did indeed storm back, pulling ahead 83-81 with less than 4 minutes to play, only to see the Spurs go clutch on back-to-back possessions, regaining the lead and stretching it to 87-83. A Ray Allen 3-pointer (welcome back!) cut the lead to 1 with less than a minute left, and the Celtics found themselves with the ball at the 8-second mark and a chance to win the game. It wasn’t meant to be. Pierce couldn’t deliver with the game on the line, and the Celtics lose at home to start a seriously difficult stretch of games.
No question, dropping this game hurts. Now we’ve got tough road games against the Bulls and Pacers, a home tilt against the Sixers, a road game against Miami…you get the picture. Doc will need to find a way to regroup, because a significant losing streak could drop the Celtics behind the Sixers in the Atlantic Division standings. And you know that means. A possible 7 or 8 seed, and almost certain first round elimination in the playoffs.
But what happened tonight wasn’t all bad. Rondo scored 17 and dished out 11 assists. Bradley ended up with a game-high 19 points off the bench. There are encouraging signs to be sure. The Celtics lived up to their resilient label. Doc continues to wring more out of less than any coach in the league.
Besides, there isn’t any time to dwell on the negatives. We need to put this game behind us and get ready for that Bulls game Thursday night in Chicago.
Let’s goooo Celtics!