Celts Hang with Spurs in Defensive Battle

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics took 98 shots against San Antonio Sunday afternoon, but they just could't get them to fall consistently.

They had a troublesome 31-point first half on 14-of-48 shooting from the field. Yet somehow they remained at the heels of the Spurs until the end, coming to within four points of San Antonio during the closing minutes.

That’s because Boston was giving the Spurs a taste of their own medicine with a stellar defensive effort.

The Celtics limited starters Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Danny Green to a combined 17 points. San Antonio’s starting five was held to 1-of-9 shooting from 3-point range, including an 0-for-5 performance from Green, who is usually deadly from deep.

Unfortunately the C’s came up just short in the end, but C’s coach Brad Stevens was impressed with his team’s tenacious defensive approach.

“I was really happy with how we guarded,” Stevens said after the game. “I was really happy with how we persevered as the shots weren’t going down and just kind of hung around.”

However, they could not get over the hump. LaMarcus Aldridge (24 points) and Kawhi Leonard (19 points) made some key baskets during the final few minutes of play and the Spurs hung on for a 95-87 win.

It was the second home loss in a row for the Celtics, but Avery Bradley believes they are making strides.

“I feel like some of our defensive possessions were very good,” said Bradley. “During the game I feel like we were all helping each other out and talking out there and that made me smile. It means that we are improving as a team and that’s the best thing about being able to play a game every other night, is getting a chance to go out there and improve every single day.”

One vast improvement from Friday night’s loss to the Raptors was Boston’s ability to muster a second-half energy surge.

The C’s scored two more points during the fourth quarter (33) of Sunday’s game than they did during the entire first half. They hit 52 percent of their shots during that final frame, which was a huge spike from the 29.2 percent clip they had during the opening half.

But the slow start was the difference for the C’s. Veteran David Lee knows these types of shooting struggles will happen from time to time.

“Out of an 82-game season unfortunately there’ll be nights where you can’t throw one in the basket,” said Lee. “Then there’ll be nights when everything goes in and it doesn’t matter who you’re playing.”

Lee added that the best way to overcome unfavorable shooting nights is to remain consistent at the other end of the court.

“You try to keep your defense and your effort at a steady level so that you’re always in games when you’re not shooting the ball well,” said Lee. “And when you are shooting the ball [well] you blow teams out.”

Jared Sullinger said that defensive persistence is a huge step up from recent years.

“I’d say two years ago when Brad first got here, [when] we didn’t shoot the ball [well], we lost by 30,” said Sullinger. “Now [when] we don’t shoot the ball well we still defend, we still compete and we still find ways to stay in the game. Now we just have to get over that hump and try to get a win.”

Stevens says one key to getting over the hump is for the team to gain more shooting confidence.

“We’ve just got to believe in ourselves and shoot the ball and we’ll have better shooting nights than this,” said the coach.

Boston has plenty of respectable shooters so it is bound to break out of this early slump.

If the C’s can just maintain that vehement level of defense that was on display against the elite Spurs, success should be right around the corner.

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