Boston Celtics 107, San Antonio Spurs 97: “We got a little bit three happy…”
AT&T CENTER–Live by the three die by the three. In basketball the 3-pointer can be the great equalizer, negating a lack of athleticism or talent, providing enough spacing to allow superior skill to offset superior athletes.
Shooting is how the San Antonio Spurs have managed to consistently reload with late draft picks and free agents off the scrap heap.
The rub, of course, is what happens when those shots don’t find the bottom of the net. To say that these Spurs have been over reliant on the 3-point shot all season is a bit of a misconception–they have been able to conjure up other forms of offense all season. To say that the Spurs were over reliant on the three-point shot tonight in their 107-97 loss, however, would be spot on.
“The game was won when we got a little three-happy in the third quarter and the transition defense didn’t follow,” head coach Gregg Popovich said. “Some of the shots were really good and open, some were contest, but the (lack of) transition after it was really important and they took advantage of it.
“They made it a 10-point game at that point and we couldn’t get back in it.”
For most of three quarters both teams executed at the highest levels of basketball, which is what you would come to expect from the Boston Celtics and Spurs. Then the Spurs hit a shooting drought, going 3-for-9 in the third quarter from long distance, and compounded matters by not getting back on defense.
Long shots led to long rebounds, which ultimately ended in 10 Boston third quarter fast break points. There’s the difference on a night that started out fairly promising.
The return to health of the San Antonio Spurs starting lineup produced one of the finest displays of offensive execution this season, for a quarter at least.
Tim Duncan (20 points, 13 rebounds, two blocks and five turnovers) once again provided the Spurs an interior presence to balance the offense while Tony Parker zipped and zagged his way into the lane at will, finding the basket and open shooters as is his wont (12 first quarter points and four assists). When the Spurs are moving bodies and the ball around it’s a beautiful thing.
Unfortunately the execution was almost too crisp, and for another night the shooting could not match pace. Some fantastic interior passing between Duncan, Antonio McDyess, and Parker some easy baskets early. Open layups begat open three-pointers, and once it became apparent that the Spurs were not hitting those (8-for-29 from distance on the night) the Celtics were able to shut everything else down to an extent.
In the second half the Celtics were able to sag off in the paint and cut off penetration, and at that point what are the likes of Matt Bonner (2-6), George Hill (1-3), and Gary Neal (0-4) supposed to do besides shoot it?
That’s not to say there are no other options. For much of the season Manu Ginobili has walked a fine line in his 3-point attempts. At his peak this season, his ability to buttress his massive amount of 3-point attempts with massive amount of free throws kept his game in balance. Tonight, 4-13 from the field and no free throw attempts.
“I think I should have gone a couple of times, but it just didn’t happen,” Ginobili said after the game. “I attacked the rim. It hurt me that I couldn’t make a shot so the defense wasn’t really worried about that, but I think I should have gone a couple times.”
Defensively, giving up 55 percent from the field would entail that there are plenty of problems. But at the heart of the defensive breakdowns tonight were the Celtics ability to make shots away from the heart of the Spurs defense.
It’s no secret, mobile big men with consistent range out to 20 feet–especially as second or third options–are increasingly becoming the bane of Popovich’s existence. Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis were 9-12 and 8-12 respectively, most coming from just steps inside the 3-point line. Rajon Rondo unexpectedly hitting the majority of his jumpers didn’t help. Tiago Splitter and his perceived cure-all interior defense would have done little here.
But back to the 3-point shooting, because if the Spurs are going to win a championship or break this Duncan-era record five game losing streak it’s going to take a couple of these shots to finally go down.
Because as Duncan and Ginobili have aged, their ability to take what the defense doesn’t give them has waned. Parker’s game has always been tied to his teammates ability to keep the lanes clean, and there are no explosive athletes on this team that can go over the top of superior defenses.
Without an athletic advantage, the Spurs lean on execution, which ultimately relies on spacing.
This is why Richard Jefferson is a better fit even with lesser numbers, Matt Bonner still warrants a spot in the rotation, and Gary Neal has been such a huge find.
Live by the three, die by the three. But remember to get back on defense.