Ginobili's 28 points lead Spurs past Celtics
BOSTON (NBA.com exclusive) -- Just when the Boston Celtics have you thinking they've turned the corner, they pull a wall out of their bag, gently place it out front and walk directly into it.
Having won five of their last six coming into Sunday's game, the Celtics appeared to be gathering steam for a playoff run. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were scoring as efficiently as they had all year, and at times the team was defending so well you almost thought of their 2008 roster.
And then the San Antonio Spurs, another veteran team trying to overcome injuries and put things together in the waning weeks of the regular season, come into TD Garden and absolutely destroys the Celtics, 94-73.
"The team that you saw, San Antonio, the way they played is usually the way we play and we just got an old fashioned butt whooping," Paul Pierce said.
With the Spurs fighting to stay above the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference, the Celtics were lucky to have San Antonio play a dreadful first half.
But even as the Spurs shot 36.8 percent heading into the break -- carried by Manu Ginobili's 16 points -- the Celtics still trailed by one.
In the third -- a quarter that has haunted the Celtics all season and, strangely, at home -- the rest of the Spurs caught up with Ginobili. With Manu facilitating, the Spurs passed Boston to death, taking advantage of remarkably slow defensive rotations to get a number of open looks and shoot 50 percent in the half.
If the Celtics doubled Ginobili off a screen-roll, there was no help to stop the roller. If they didn't double, there was no speed to cut off the ballhandler. It was lose-lose.
"When they move the ball like that, it's one of those things that we didn't anticipate what they were going to do," Ray Allen said.
But beyond the 28 points and seven assists, Ginobili's tour-de-force was fleshed out by a number of loose balls that he kept alive. While he wasn't credited with any of San Antonio's 10 second-half offensive rebounds, he still made many of them possible.
"Manu's been playing great for the last month," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "He's basically taken over the team. He's been the same Manu we've had when we won championships, so you know without Tony [Parker] it's really important for somebody to step up like that and he's done it."
"He definitely imposed his will on the game," Garnett said.
What's scary for Boston's playoff hopes -- before considering how many times they've been thoroughly pounded on their home court -- is that Ginobili is the only player the Spurs needed to put forth an exceptional performance. Though George Hill couldn't be kept out of the paint in the second half, the Spurs were without Parker and didn't get double-digits points, or shot attempts, out of Tim Duncan.
"I can look at the box score and say before the game, 'I would take [eight points from Duncan] on their end," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "It's amazing.
They're doing this right now and getting not a lot out of Tim."
While the Celtics eventually collapsed as San Antonio continued to gain extra possessions -- no surprise given the Spurs had 20 offensive boards against them back in December -- their own offense had them in trouble long before Ginobili was hitting a ridiculous buzzer-beating three to put the Spurs up 17 to close the third.
Though one of the best assist-per-field goal teams in the league (second only to Utah), the Celtics came out in the second with the ball stopping on its first or second destination and players trying to score off the dribble. Though this philosophy failed them, the Celtics kept plugging away with isolations. The result: a season-low 14 assists.
"You're not going to beat them off the bounce," Rivers said. "You're just not. And it seemed like we were hell bent on trying to do that."
After the game, Pierce said this was the type of game the Celtics could describe as one to get out of their system. The question now is, how many games like this were in their system to begin with?