San Antonio Spurs 103, Boston Celtics 88: When guards attack

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AT&T CENTER — If someone told you before the game that Tim Duncan would shoot 2-13 and Manu Ginobili would leave in the first quarter with an injury and not return, would you guess that the Spurs won? Would you imagine they would win by double-digits? Such is the world we live in right now, as both of those things happened and the Spurs beat the Celtics 103-88 on Saturday night.

How does such a thing occur? Well, it comes in large part thanks to a half-French, half-American guard rotation. Tony Parker led all scorers with 22 points (nine in the fourth quarter) and handed out eight assists. Nando De Colo played some of the biggest minutes of his young career with the Spurs, scoring eight points and forcing three turnovers (two steals and blocked shot that went out of bounds off of Boston’s Courtney Lee) on defense.

On the US of A side of things, Gary Neal and Danny Green combined to shoot 6-13 from the 3-point line and went back and forth on an 11-0 third quarter run that took a tie game and put the Spurs in control. Neal scored 20 points and played a good all-around game for the Spurs, including dogged pursuit chasing Boston shooters like Jason Terry around the perimeter. Offensively, the threat of Neal’s 3-point shot gave him the opportunity to get by his man and engage two or three Celtic defenders at a time. That type of attention gets a defense off-balance and opens up opportunities for other players. Neal was only credited with three assists, but he created so many more baskets for the Spurs.

“Obviously Tony was unbelievable down the stretch, but a lot of guys like Gary, Danny and Tiago [Splitter] played very solid basketball,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said after the game.

For De Colo, the win over the Celtics could be a big moment in his career. Nando played over nine minutes in the fourth quarter including a six-minute stretch alongside Parker, Green, Duncan and Boris Diaw in which the Spurs shot 5-8 and outscored the Celtics by seven points. In total, Nando logged 20 minutes against the Celtics. De Colo’s time came when the game was anything but decided and could be a significant vote of confidence from Coach Pop.

Coming into this season, I didn’t think De Colo would be near as effective as he’s been. I expected De Colo’s passing ability to be good, but figured his limited foot speed would hurt him against much quicker NBA guards. What has occurred is De Colo inserted himself into Pop’s backup point guard conversation by playing with an elite basketball IQ and court sense. There’s really no other way to describe it. Sometimes simply knowing your own limitations and where to be can help in overcoming limited athleticism.

“Nando is a really intelligent player,” Pop said. “He’s not going to jump out of the gym and be on ESPN for dunking or anything like that, but he moves the ball at the right times… He makes good decisions. He’s really gaining confidence and doing a good job for us.”

Against Boston, De Colo had two steals in help defense primarily because he knew where to position himself. He forces turnovers not by reaching reaching or gambling, but by knowing what the offense wants to do and beating them to the spot. De Colo’s first steal of the game came in the first half by rotating over on a drive to the basket and making a nice play on the ball. His second came from rotating over to the rolling big man after getting picked and intercepting the pass. In the fourth quarter he stayed with Celtics guard Courtney Lee on a drive and blocked the shot off of Lee and out of bounds, forcing a third turnover.

Throw in the fact that Nando’s 3-point shot improved as the season unfolded and he’s becoming a part of the Spurs rotation when most of us figured he’d be a luxury item reserved strictly for garbage time minutes. Coach Pop doesn’t usually solidify his rotations for another couple of months, so there’s plenty of time for De Colo to get a firm grasp on the backup point guard minutes and move his name up the depth chart.

Some other notes from San Antonio’s win over the Celtics:

  •  Manu Ginobili left the game in the first quarter with a left quad contusion after getting a Chris Wilcox knee to the thigh on an illegal screen. Manu went down in a heap and eventually limped off the court with Spurs trainers. He went into the locker room and never returned. It’s uncertain if he’ll be available for Monday’s game against the Thunder, but none of the players seemed too concerned about his health going forward.
  • Tiago Splitter started the game alongside Tim Duncan. The Spurs offense started off a little rocky with the pair, but eventually figured out the spacing some and recovered to put up a 125.6 offensive rating in 12 minutes together. Splitter finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Duncan shot just 2-13 for five points and grabbed 12 rebounds.
  • Parker knocked down another 3-pointer from the corner against Boston. According to NBA.com’s Statscube, TP is 6-13 (46%) from the corners so far this season. He shot 8-24 (33%) in the corners last season.

Lineup data courtesy of NBA.com/Stats

  • Chris W.

    Excluding the game he got tossed in, it looks like this is the first time in 42 games where Rondo didn’t reach at least ten dimes. Part of it was other Celtics’ shots being flat, but he looked out of control and generally the Spurs did a nice job getting back and defending the transition game.

  • Juan Mauricio

    Great Point Chris. Guys, can we expect the spurs to Start Thiago from now on?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=173600134 Ryan McShane

    I’ve noticed Tiago’s English has gotten a lot better over the past two years in his post-game interviews. I don’t know how much English is spoken or if structured language really matters on the court, but it’s interesting. I wonder what Manu’s English sounded like in his first year.

  • Graham

    I think no, He’s a situational starter I feel, as he’s showing he can do a lot of damage on the second unit as the designated ‘big’, especially if he’s with Diaw or Bonner.

  • junierizzle

    Good win. Really liking how De Colo is shooting. Also Gary Neal said SJack is only a couple of games away. Is that accurate?

  • Andrew in Australia

    I didn’t get to see the game, but did Tiago/Duncan combo have anything to do with Duncan bad shooting? And how good is Tony Parker….

  • Walastk77

    I think having TD & TS in the starting lineup, can be very intimidating to the other team. I would like to see them both start more often!

  • Bruno

    I like Splitter starting, is good to start the game strong, plus Duncan doesn’t need to battle alone against 2 7′.

  • Graham

    Downside to that is it leaves our second unit thin on frontcourt thin. Does a Diaw-Blair frontcourt sound like something you want to see often?

  • Blaze

    It was not that bad, but he had alot thicker accent

  • Bob

    Diaw started at center for the Suns the year Stoudemire was injured and had probably his best season. He has a back to the basket game and can find the outside shooters. It’s also another way to get him more involved offensively.

  • Graham

    Offense isn’t the problem with Diaw at Center, it’s Defense. He can guard 4s well enough for the most part but a Marc Gasol type will destroy him in the post. It could work if the other team is going small but not if they put in a competent center.

  • DieHardSpur

    @b22d8d9ba835bc2ab9c6185bcbd6751f:disqus The way Pop has staggered them is perfect, and doesn’t leave a hole like before. He has started subbing Timmy first at the 5:00 (ish) mark in the first quarter and bringing Diaw off the bench first. Then Timmy comes back with 2:00 (ish) left in the first to finish out. This keeps at least Timmy or Tiago on the floor at all times, and I love it. i cant wait until we get rid of Blair. He is a walking mistake. He usually has 1-2 fouls in the first 8 minutes of play, a minimum of 1 TO, and a couple of missed, hurried shots around the rim. He is a joke. I don’t care if he is cheap or not… he doesn’t net a positive. The only reason he has been even slightly effective is because he has been paired with Tim.

    In other news – someone please start hitting Tiago on the roll. PLEASE! I think he is possibly the best roll-man in the game right now… Tiago as the roll man on 12 possessions a game nets 20 very effective ppg. Whether they are earned at the foul line, at the rim, or assisting the corner 3… VERY EFFECTIVE!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=173600134 Ryan McShane

    It took him twice as long to make a sentence.