Boston Celtics 105, San Antonio Spurs 103: The executioners’ errors

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TD GARDEN — I’ll go on the record as saying no two teams in the National Basketball Association execute better during the final two minutes of a close game than the Boston Celtics and the San Antonio Spurs. I’d rather have Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan out on that floor in a tight game than practically any duo in the league, but if I had to chose a replacement, I would pick Ray Allen and Paul Pierce without hesitation.

However, in order for me to make this argument effectively, I ask that you completely ignore the final two minutes of the Celtics 105-103 victory over the Spurs in Boston Wednesday evening.

With 2:28 left in the fourth quarter, the Boston Celtics called a timeout. Neither team had managed to score in a little under a minute, and Doc Rivers substituted Marquis Daniels for Shaquille O’Neal.  He may have been concerned that Popovich’s highly debated hack-a-Shaq tactic was set to make an appearance at any given moment, especially if the Spurs got up by a possession or two. However, I think he was mostly concerned about Shaq’s defensive limitations. (The Spurs still had a few fouls to give, making the Hack-a-Shaq unlikely to be used.)

The game was tied 96-96. Over the next minute and a half, Tim Duncan threw up a misguided, slightly off-balance mid-range jumper; Richard Jefferson was called for a charge against Glen Davis; and Manu Ginobili turned the ball over, only to fail to rotate onto Ray Allen as he curled out to the three-point line off a pick on the ensuing play. George Hill performed what appeared to be the denouement, when he had the ball stolen from him in the open court.

The team that I believe executes better than almost any other team in the NBA at the end of a close game gave up nine points in just under one minute and 30 seconds. 105-96, Celtics.

“We imploded defensively,” said Gregg Popovich after the game. I, as did many of you I imagine, believed that implosion to be, for all intents and purposes, the last memorable moment from the game.

However, this comedy of errors was far from complete. After Manu Ginobili hit a quick three-pointer, the ever-poised Paul Pierce coughed up a quick turnover, as did Nate Robinson on the following play and, after Richard Jefferson calmly sunk two free throws, the Spurs found themselves down by two with 33 seconds left. What had appeared, if not impossible, than highly unlikely, came to pass: All the Spurs needed to do was play solid defense (a tall order as of late), secure the rebound and they’d have a shot to tie or win the game.

They managed to play decent defense, forcing Paul Pierce into a neither-here-nor-there 19-footer that he missed. Somehow Nate Robinson (Nate Robinson) emerged with the rebound, quickly shuttled the ball to Ray Allen, who was fouled by Richard Jefferson and, again, the Spurs appeared to be finished for the evening. When was the last time you saw Ray Allen miss two free throws to ice a game?

At the time I didn’t remember, but I will now: With 8 seconds left, Celtics up two, against the Spurs on Jan. 5, 2011. Ginobili collected the rebound and immediately called a timeout. The Spurs were going to get their shot.

Tim Duncan stood just past the Celtics bench, scanning the court. Ginobili rolled along the near-side of the court and found some space, but for some reason Duncan looked away. He found Antonio McDyess instead, who quickly passed the ball to Manu. Manu pump faked, drawing his defender into the air. Assuming he had a clean shot — after the game, he said he wasn’t aware of the second defender — he launched the ball towards the rim, only to have it batted back by Paul Pierce and corralled by Rajon Rondo.

Fin.

Just to recap: In the game’s final stretch, Manu Ginobili turned the ball over, failed to rotate onto an open Ray Allen and had his shot attempt to win blocked. Paul Pierce turned the ball over, allowing an open layup from Tony Parker. Tim Duncan failed to find an open Manu Ginobili on the final inbounds play, and couldn’t secure a rebound over Nate Robinson. Ray Allen missed two free throws to win the game. In my humble opinion, those are some of the most clutch players in the NBA, and yet they seemed to be doing everything within their powers to ensure the other team had a decent shot at a win.

As Andrew McNeill suggested during the game, if these two teams meet in the NBA Finals, expect the last two minutes of any close games to go down very differently.

  • In the race to see which two minutes could deflate Spurs fans more, the last two minutes of the third quarter came in a close second. The Spurs would have given up 7 unanswered points to close the half had it not been for a well-executed last second jump shot by George Hill as the buzzer sounded.
  • Gregg Popovich on Ray Allen: “Ray needs to work on his shooting. He only hit 13 out of 16. If it was practice, and you did pin-downs and came off of that, I don’t know if anyone in the league would hit 13 out of 16. He does it in a game. That’s pretty good.”
  • In the context of a single game, +/-’s utility is glaringly limited. However it’s worth noting that all five of the Celtics starters had a positive +/-, while all of their bench players had a negative +/-. Not surprisingly, the exact opposite is true of the Spurs, with the exception of Tony Parker, who had a positive +/- of three points.
  • The Celtics’ shot 61.3 percent from the field, leading me to believe the Spurs did a rather poor job on defense. However, a combination of Ray Allen’s hot hand, solid mid-range shooting by Glen Davis and Paul Pierce, and the lingering taste of Tuesday night’s defensive catastrophe have me feeling that, all things considered, the Spurs defense wasn’t that terrible.
  • That being said, the Spurs defense for the first six minutes of the game was atrocious, nothing more than a direct extension of the defensive performance they had given the night prior.
  • I’m a bit surprised we didn’t see Gary Neal on the floor for that final play. I would have been absolutely fine with a dribble drive by either Manu or Tony to Neal’s side of the floor. If Neal’s man collapsed, hit him with the quick pass. If he doesn’t, Tony or Manu have a one-on-one scenario in the paint with a full head of steam and a chance to tie. We’ve run that play a thousand times, but that doesn’t make it any easier to defend.
  • I have other notes, which I’ll unpack further tomorrow. Cheers.
  • jwalt

    And as far as the Blair-Splitter issue, i vote for McDyess. Blair can be brilliant and he can be flat out awful. Splitter can be effective and does a lot of the little things well but then at times he looks like he can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. I can’t believe he was the MVP of the Spanish League.

    I think Pop is saving up McDyess so that he will be fresh for the playoffs, and then he will play the bulk of the minutes alongside Timmy.

  • Bankshot21

    Didn’t even bother reading the previous comments. I can just imagine what’s been said already. The world will not end. We will lose less than 20 games this year. Teams shot the lights out. Can’t defend shooting like that.

  • TD = BEST EVER

    @ Titletown99030507
    “Hell no we don’t need a trade. Enough of the Blair wish project. Give Splitter the next 25 games with 25 min. in each game instead, and your problem is solved.”

    I have said many times now that Splitter COULD be what we are looking for. But we will never know until he gets some significant burn for 10-15 games. But in reality I don’t think POP trusts him right now and that’s a tall hurdle for anybody to leap, let alone a rookie. So I really don’t see POP playing him if he couldn’t get any burn Vs a Boston team in which we could have really used another BIG.

    @ jwalt

    “In 2007 everyone was screaming for a trade, Pop said no and they went on to win the championship.”

    We still had a top 3 D then and the top teams weren’t as talented as they are now. So yeah we need a trade or to get Splitter in the starting line up to try and find out where’s our ceiling.

    “we have 5 capable bigs, with only Duncan being crucial.”

    Actually 2 NBA capable Bigs, 2 works in progress, and an offensive specialist

  • NYC

    @ Dorie
    Thanks for the stats. I see now that the 22 three-pt attempts were just par for this team.

    @ Melvin
    Good analysis. You make some good points.

    @ Dr. Who
    Totally agree w you about the need for defense. Seems that when Hill has a bad night, the entire team defense suffers.
    Also, birds have been sacrificed on my end. Fish too.

    @ TD = Best Ever
    I’m on the verge of getting on the Free Tiago wagon. Since I don’t believe a trade is coming, we need him to develop and he’s just not getting the PT to do so. Is there a petition going around to sign?

    @ Beat Counselor
    Good point about Rondo and others as well. Could not agree w you more about those Celtic announcers. Was ready to throw something at my screen.

    @ Bentley
    Agree w your points. I hope you are right.

    @ jwalt
    I agree that the end of the season and playoffs will be Dice time, but we still need back up from Tiago. Which is why it confuses me that he isn’t getting burn now.

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