Re-Becoming Boston


During the 2007-8 season the Boston Celtics displaced the San Antonio Spurs as the league’s premier defensive team. Tom Thibodeau and the Celtics personnel trumped Gregg Popovich and San Antonio’s squad, and the Spurs spent the better part of the last two seasons with a loose grip on their once proud defensive stalwart status. One of San Antonio’s goals for this season is to re-discover themselves as an elite defensive ball club, and they’re showing steady improvement. But they’re still a long way from the night in, night out dominance that once characterized the team.

In the early 90s, David Bowie covered Morrissey’s “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday” on the album Black Tie, White Noise.  It sounded odd to hear the rock icon singing the tune of his musical disciple, but it still somehow worked through the speakers of my stereo. When asked about the choice, Bowie quipped “That’s me singing Morrissey singing David Bowie.”

Boston’s championship template is strikingly similar to the Spurs’ approach throughout the first 7 seasons of this decade. Hopefully, by the end of the season, Spurs fans will look at their team’s defense and say “that’s San Antonio becoming the Celtics becoming the Spurs.” Odd analogy, I know. But there it is.

So in the big picture, Boston-San Antonio comparisons, and games between the two teams, are always already at the forefront of my mind. It doesn’t take a nationally televised game on TNT to stir that pot. But in the smaller picture, this is merely an early game in a long season between two good teams. It’s not that important in terms of Boston vs. San Antonio. 

If these two teams were to meet in the Finals (we can dream), it would be like two old friends finding one another in college after spending high school six states apart. Both teams will grow too much between now and the end of the season for us to place too heavy an emphasis on this game. This is middle school cafeteria conversation. Puberty and girls and all kinds of growing up lie ahead.

So in that sense, don’t get bent out of shape if San Antonio loses tonight. And don’t fill the comment threads of boards and blogs with messianic proclamations if they win. But do watch the Spurs’ defense.

San Antonio is slowly reclaiming their defensive swagger, but they needed to beat up a few mediocre teams to get back to respectability. Tonight marks the start of a stretch of games that will give a good indication of whether the Spurs are the sort of team that get their jollies bullying the middle of the pack or if they are really one of the tough kids.

The Spurs started the season ranked near the bottom of the league by nearly every defensive metric. In terms of defensive efficiency, San Antonio has scraped back to the middle. But their defense ranks third in OTS% (just ahead of Boston at 51.5), seventh in straight FG% allowed (again, just ahead of Boston), and eighth in O3P%.   Couple those respectable percentages with a strong defensive rebounding rate (fifth in the league), and the Spurs are approaching a place dominance. It’s a good trajectory.

Setting aside specific schemes, San Antonio’s defensive philosophy is basic to good basketball. They want to contest hard, force one lower-than-their-opponent-would-want percentage shot, and board. That, and don’t give up easy points in transition.  Against Golden State, Washington and Milwaukee, this was an easy task. Let’s see how the team fares against Boston, Denver and Utah.

For more thoughts on the game, check out CelticsHub. I answered a handful of their questions about the Spurs in advance of tonight’s game. Love me. And besides, it’s one of the best team blogs going. Elsewhere, PtR has their game thread up and has post practice video from Tony Parker, Antonio McDyess and Matt Bonner.

  • Jordan

    I just read an article by Mike Monroe over at, and he seemed to imply that the Spurs were after McDyess all along and not ‘Sheed.

    Also, ‘Sheed has some sort of bone to pick with us, but I’m not sure what it is.

    Looking forward to this game tonight!

  • SpurredOn

    I like the Bowie/Morrissey analogy. Well done.

    Along with wanting to keep the winning streak going and beat a top team, I’d really like to end the three game home losing streak to Boston. They hadn’t won in S.A. in nearly two decades and now the past two seasons have been heart-break one possession losses. Let’s end the Celtics comfort when playing in San Antonio. Go Spurs!

  • Tom in Bakersfield, CA

    I would bet ‘Sheed’s problem with the Spurs begins and ends with the title we ripped from Detroit. ‘Sheed is definitely the type to hold a grudge til he dies.

  • Ivander

    I am really nervous about the game tonight. Don’t know what to expect, both teams are on fire, but the Spurs have won against average opponents and the Celtics are clicking on every cylinder right now. I hope TD continues to play the way he has been playing during the streak! RJ has to step up, he’s still searching for his role in this team..
    SpurredOn is right, we have to show the Celtics who’s playing at home and who’s the away team!! Boston can’t win 3 straight in San Antonio!!

    Defense looked much better during the last 5 games but the Celtics will be the first real test!

    Tonight, once again, I will sacrifice my sleep this to live my passion for the Spurs!!! It better be worth it!!! GO SPURS GO!!

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  • Matthew

    This battle of titans (C’s vs spurs) will be one of many test to come 4 both teams. The C’s are trying to keep what little momentum going and jell as a team. The spurs are going through a little bit of the same…trying to reestablish their defense and get everyone into there role. I see many similarities in both teams. Each focus on D first and formost. Each have great bigs. Each have veteran leadership with a little bit of youth sprinkled in. Each team is trying to regain former glory…and of coarse each will have to go through the hated flakers to get where they belong. Watch Manu vs Ray Allen and the rondo match up. The bigs will be bigs. Kg Sheed TD etc. They cancel each other out. The guards in my opinion are where the battle will be won or lost.
    Rondo is key for the celtics and whomever plays point for your spurs is going to be key…is Parker even back yet? Anywho it will be fun to watch.

  • Greg

    Anybody else wonder why Mason was in the game during crunch time instead of Ginobili or Hill? I know Pop was running with a hot lineup, but when Mason can’t hit any shots, it costs us. That was a winnable game and I think Pop once again mismanaged the substitutions and rotations. I know we’re playing for later in the season, but we have to be able to beat a good team at some point.

  • lvmainman

    20 Offensive rebounds negated by 20 turnovers.

    Post up D problem with Perkins and Wallace by Bonner and Blair.

    No outside shots made by Mason, Bonner, Finley, or Jefferson.

    Blair is phenomenal in the pick and roll with Ginobili and Mason. Parker needs to take notes.

    10 missed Ft’s. Yuck.

    Still learning to blend together, but I’m still disappointed. Nuggets will be just as tough.

  • BB

    RMJr.’s presence on the floor didn’t bother me as much as one or two of those shots he was putting up. When you’re closing in on a good team with that much time left, you need to look for your best guys first. If they can’t get to the basket, or if the defense collapses, that’s when you look for the three. Unless you’re Manu.

    What did you guys think of Blair? I don’t know if those wide open looks to Rasheed were mistakes on rotation or Pop’s plan, but otherwise I felt pretty good about his play. First and most important, it’s impressive to watch a rookie with the confidence to go to the basket and challenge a veteran of KG’s caliber, especially at that point in the game. And that early gaffe aside, he’s got nicer hands than I realized. Tonight, his style and grit reminded me a little bit of Nazr Mohamed. I’d be happy to have that kind of player on the team right now.

  • Drom John

    Make your free throws.
    They are “free” with no Celtic defenders.

  • vikombe

    I love the Bowie analogy. Love it, love it, love it!!! Very clever!!!

  • JT

    Even though it was a disappointing loss, I believe it was a very good game, we had a bunch of turnovers, did not shoot the 3 well at all and we still had a chance.

    That being said, I believe our defense will eventually get great, I know people think we have a great offense, but I disagree. Timmy is Timmy, Parker can score and obviously so can Blair(Thank God for him) but we need to move the ball much better and use screens, we need a guy like Ray Allen who’s all over the court. Tony really needs to notice the pick and rolls with Ginobili and Blair and learn from that, I love the fact that Manu is trusting Blair and is paying off.

    What is up with Jefferson, jeez, he’s not exactly earning his 14 million right now. He missed about 4 layups yesterday, Blair has much nicer hands. Jefferson’s offense looks mediocre and he always does this silly jump to land on both legs before he wants to take a shot, so predictable.

    I’m scared of our perimeter shooting, I’m hoping that Bonner and Mason just had a bad night, but they can’t shoot well when rushed or get nervous.

    We need to control our turnovers, I liked that we beat them on the boards, and come on, make some forsaken free throws, I mean, Timmy shot free throws better than the whole team, that’s a lot to say.

    Look forward to the next meeting.

  • JT

    never mind, Timmy didn’t make any free throws either, if we had made the free throws and had less turnovers this would have been our game, sad to say that our second lineup is playing much better that the first.

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