The Margin: San Antonio Spurs 87, Boston Celtics 86


Ed. Note: Rob Mahoney, my spirit animal and proprietor of the TrueHoop Network’s Two Man Game, has a unique style of game recap. He takes the margin of the final score and posts a note for every point. I’m going to being shamelessly doing a half-hearted version of his idea with some regularity.

This column is so much easier to write when the Spurs win by one instead of, say, 35.

  • Despite getting the victory, the Spurs only scored 28 second half points. (As compared to say, 32 second quarter points.) That’s nothing to gawk at. However, I want to propose the wildly counterintuitive notion that the Spurs offense was not that bad in the second half. The team had a truly abysmal second half shooting percentage – a couple of percentage points south of 30 percent. In particular, the team’s 3-point shooting fell off a cliff. The Spurs went 2-17 in the second half from outside. In the past I’ve been critical of what I’ve perceived to be the Spurs overreliance on 3-point shooting. But in this instance I come not to bury the Spurs outside shooters but to praise them. The truth of the matter is, despite a team-wide cold streak, the ball movement remained crisp, the floor remained well spaced and the shot selection remained high quality. Nothing was falling, but don’t mistake misses with poor decision-making or ball movement. Many of those 3s were wide open and there’s nothing wrong with a 40 percent 3-point shooter, which the Spurs possess in spades, taking a wide-open outside shot. There were a few ill-advised 3s here and there, but of the seventeen, the majority were open looks that I only regretted once the ball failed to splash through the net. The point is, over the years the Spurs have proven that the systems they employ on both ends of the floor work. On face value there’s not much to like about San Antonio’s offense in the second half. However, what I loved was the fact that, amidst a drought, the team remained calm, spaced the floor, moved the ball and found open shots. One rough quarter didn’t cause anyone to abandon the game plan. It may have been ugly to watch at the time, but in the future that combination of clear-headedness and confidence will pay dividends.

UPDATE: In the comments section, etomai rightly pointed out that, in the second half, the Spurs’ guards did a poor job penetrating the defense. That’s absolutely right. Attacking the rim and either getting easy shots or to line is often an effective antidote when a team’s mired in a drought, and San Antonio’s attempts to do that were largely thwarted. There are plenty of things the Spurs could have done better. I’m merely saying that, in spite of the poor penetration, turnovers and myriad other things going wrong, I wasn’t really bothered by the high volume or quality of outside shots San Antonio was taking.

  • DaveMan

    I really think our offense will look more like this in the playoffs just like last year. Thank god the defense is much better but get used to thes types of games in the playoffs.

  • spurINhouston

     I didn’t get to catch tonight’s game, but was it really that bad? All the games I’ve watched previous looks like a totally different team from last year.

  • Deeds130

    I’m pretty sure the Graydon would have made a much different argument if BOS had made that last shot.

  • Deeds130

    After NOH were facing a very telling stretch… Jazz, Jazz, LAL, MEM over 5 nights! The Jazz have the most imposing interior in the game, if accounting for their depth. Kanter looks better than Jefferson due to being 4x as quick when making his low-post moves. Favors is a handful at both ends, just beastly. We win if we insure the evil twin D Harris plays both games, with a no show from the good D Harris. But then we’ll have an even tougher b2b after 1 night off. I’m bearish.

  • theghostofjh
  • Justinray813

    this team is solid, they are all in…. no need to doubt any longer

  • Justinray813

    i remember back when we were 0-8 or something on the road and EVERYONE was saying we would only win 1 or 2 games on the RRT…. i thought that was crap. GO SPURS GO!!!!!!!!!! now look

  • junierizzle

    You mean if a team doesn’t make shots it makes it difficult to win? Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?!

    I think everyone is making too much of the bad offense in this particular game. Bad shooting games are going to happen. If you ask me, this was the one of the most impressive wins of the streak. They were up big and then the HOME team makes a come back. They didn’t rattle and ended up winning an ugly game. It wasn’t just luck that Pierce missed, you have to give Credit to TD for making it tough on him. My point is good teams win pretty and ugly.

  • Tim in Surrey

    You’re “going to being shamelessly doing”? Sounds deeply mystical, Graydon. Good luck with that. :)

  • Tim in Surrey

    I’m with you, junierizzle, except on Pierce’s shot. That’s exactly the shot he wanted, it just didn’t happen to go down. Tim admitted as much after the game. But hey, the Spurs got good shots all game long that just didn’t happen to go down either. Strange game–but a good result.

  • bongp.

    Allow us a bit of alliteration, which I think captures the nail-biter in a nutshell: Tim Duncan and defense denied the Boston Celtics of a comeback as the San Antonio Spurs gutted out an 87-86 decision in another defining match between two great rivals. 

  • Bob

    The playoffs come down to who can get the easier shots. If the Spurs are taking tough shots and the other team is getting easier shots they’re not going to last long unless they go on a hot streak. How much did it help us to have all those 40% 3pt shooters in the playoffs if they could never get hot?

    Another thing 3pt percentages will go down in the playoffs. If the Spurs are counting on getting the same looks and knocking them down at the same rate it just will not happen.

  • Easy B

    Spurs are looking good. We have 4 awesome players to finish off any game: TD, MG, TP, SG. We can roll with either KL,DG, TS, BD or even matt b with the way he’s rebounding of late to roll out a strong 5. Sorry djb, but he is not yet a finish he game guy. I personally would go with Kawaii if we can; he hasn’t completely arrived yet, but in the playoffs it could be TD Mach 2…y’all remember TD s explosion?

    I’ve just watched a recorded version of heat and thunder. I like our chances against both because we can execute better and shoot the three ball better than both. But we absolutely must have a long guy like KL on LBJ and Durant all series for 30 a game. I hope pop feels the same.

    Both teams can really ball-hound and the spurs will need to rise to this pressure in the playoffs. Last year we choked with an unhealthy Manu, but TD, TP and new additions make us a way better team this year.

    I honestly think we can do what Dallas just did. If Miami make the finalsvagain they will be harder with experience under the belt and arguably a better team than last.

    But the spurs are looking like a hybrid of the 99 and 03 teams….I feel that every team must be watching Duncan’s play this year and thinking: we might have to double if we don’t have Garnett or similar on our team.

    That is vastly different to last year when Timmy was somewhat robotic with knee stiffness.

    I agree with other posters about keeping plenty of ammo off he bench. If we can score enough in the opening 6 with KL, DG, and DJB, we will be dictating the game for the remainder of the game.

    Rooks will have to hit open threes, drive the lane and get to the line and crash boards – all the while being a shadow on D.

    As far as biggest threats to the spurs go: lakers and OKC out west. Bulls and heat out east. Boston can’t beat us in a series this year. I don’t think this will be the bulls year, which means the heat are the team in the east to beat.

    I’m guessing the mavs will finish 4th, Memphis 5th and clippers 6th. Not ideal, because lakers will handle the clips and Dallas will beat Memphis..although maybe in7. Which means we will face the size of the lakers followed by mavs or OKC, then Miami – u less we come first and drill the mavs before taking on winner of OKC and lakers…that would be more ideal…here’s hoping.

  • Bry

    If that’s the shot he wanted then he’s a fool. Pierce is the reigning conference player of the month and he’s hit some big time buzzer-beaters in his day, but that play was awful. He got the switch-up and had a 35-year-old 7-footer matched up on him. He then inexplicably dribbles out the clock (umm, not the best strategy when you are LOSING and might need a rebound or a tip in to win it) and ends up taking a fade-away 20-foot jumpshot over Tim Duncan?! That’s the shot he wanted? A contested jump-shot just inside the 3-point line is like the worst shot in all of basketball. Hell, my middle school coach even instructed us never to take that shot unless we absolutely had to. If he had driven to the hoop he could have drawn a foul (he is an excellent free-throw shooter) or if he had shot much earlier a teammate could have had a good shot at the rebound (Timmy, the Spurs best rebounder and perhaps the best defensive rebounder in the league was stuck on the perimeter guarding him). I was quite happy that’s the shot they ended up with. 

  • etomai

    I think I was watching a different game.  What I saw in the 2nd half was passes that were constantly a bit out of reach, guys taking their eyes off the ball before they caught it and bobbling it, and hesitation all around.  Every one of those bad passes, catches and pauses stopped the ball and killed the offensive flow.  Either Boston was doing a great job stopping our guard penetration, or we were.  Eventually someone would put up an unconvincing shot late in the clock.

    Not really worried about an outlier that we won anyway, but it was a good template for how to lose a game.

  • Graydon Gordian

    I think it’s fair to be critical of the guard penetration. In general, an antidote to poor outside shooting is to attack the rim and get some easy shots or get to the line, and the Spurs were struggling mightily to do so. But I still think if you go back and take a look at the 17 (my god, 17!) 3-pointers San Antonio took in the second half, a large percentage of them were relatively open and taken with a fair degree of rhythm.

    My point is, I think this offense is really terrific and many of the things that make it so were still palpable during that abysmal second half stretch, even if the shots weren’t falling.

  • Vermont Spurs Fan

    It is interesting what television does not show…
    I live in Vermont and was able to attend my first Spurs game. The drunken hate that came from those Boston fans was absolutely violent in nature. The volume was probably 125 decibels. Ear protection was needed. Fouls were NOT being called. There was an element of violence. Everyone was scared. The refs were scared to blow the whistle. I was scared, not because of my Spurs jersey but because of the pure hate and the violent noise in that building. My first ever Spurs game in person – basically courtside – Timmy gave me a high five on the way out the tunnel – anyway my first in-person game and I wished I was not there. At one point I did not care who won, just let it end.The Spurs felt some of this. It was a very physical game on both sides in the second half. Not just from the Celtics players but from the fans. The Spurs “took the crowd out of it” in the first half. I now understand that this is crucial in road games. A double digit lead makes for a quieter atmosphere. Miss a few shots and the crowd starts to think they were the reason (they had an impact for sure) and the fans just get louder. For the Spurs to make the crucial plays and win a game that Boston needed much more – and wanted much more – was an accomplishment, given the atmosphere.

  • Graydon Gordian

    I’ve been to TD Garden. It is a hell of a crowd. One of the loudest in the NBA.

  • Vermont Spurs Fan

    Dave –

    I could not agree with you any LESS. We punched the Celtics in the first half. They adjusted in the second half, with the ONLY move they had…Going small. This stifled us for the 3rd quarter. Pop adjusted just enough to win a tough road game. In a 7 game series the Spurs have about 10 different adjustments we could make. That was the only one the Celtics had. That was it. By the 2nd or 3rd game of a series it would be back to 59 points in a half, like the first. Remember the Celtics took both games from us last year. Only team to sweep the Spurs last year (I believe). This is a high-quality win, but not typical. I except the playoffs to be nearer to 100 points from the Spurs with occasional 110+ outputs. 

  • RawJa777

    I saw the same thing.  Bad passes mostly, not difficult ones, around the perimeter that were out of the shooter’s wheelhouse allowing the defense to close while the shooter struggled to control the ball.  It was like quicksand.  After a while both Manu and Tony were dropping the ball off to the first person available or picking up their dribble unnecessarily.  This forced us to take a bunch of contested threes in the second half.  Looking back, it had to be due to exhaustion.  I’ve never seen Manu and Tony pass up so many of their favorite shots in favor of a simple, useless pass to a shooter who wasn’t expecting the ball.

  • Tyler

    For Pierce, that was definitely a makeable midrange jumper. He got to his spot, just missed. Pierce excels at creating space with the step back (especially when he drives left). I’ve watched him a good deal, and I’d definitely say that’s his go-to move. And even though TD got a hand up, I don’t think it was enough to really bother Pierce. 

  • Titletown99030507d

    Neal did that a couple of times taking his eyes of the ball while trying to see the defender coming to him resulting in bobbling ball handling. I think that was not in the spurs nature to get rattled. Hope they get that pressure out of their system.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Did you hear Sean even make a comment when Ray Allen missed a 10 footer all by himself with no one guarding him late in the 4th? He was beside himself.

  • Titletown99030507d

    That’s why the guards need to get Splitter, Blair, and Diaw going with the PNR, SNR a majority of the time instead of being trigger happy. I say establish the inside easy bucket first then take your pick from the perimeter thereafter instead of shooting in desperation to get any offensive rhythm going.

  • Titletown99030507d

    If they start doubling Timmy it would be nice to see Splitter on the floor with him. If that’s the case. Easy buckets all night long.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Your right Bry that’s the shot Timmy wanted him to take. He basically took his team out of an opportunity to get a second chance if he missed and that shot was more than a fade away he was off balance because of Timmy was able to get to him sooner than Pierce thought.

  • Titletown99030507d

    I predicted 7 games.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Who’s playing the front court against the Jazz? Your going to need long dudes for that game.

  • Titletown99030507d

    They shouldn’t be playing like this in the playoffs or they don’t deserve to win anything. Pop will make sure of that. They’ve played well 73 % of the season and to start playing like this in the playoffs is uncalled for.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Don’t understand why “Mills on Wheels” didn’t get any burn last night. The way he’s been shooting he could have gone for a couple of 3’s during that crazy stretch of no offense. That dude is like a little mouse looking for cheese all over the court.

  • DorieStreet

    I put in 7-2 at first, but the responses shamed me into backing off to 5-4.

  • DorieStreet

    Usually a 9-point 3rd quarter and a 28-point 2nd half on the road is a loss.  Add to that it being a second game of a back-back against a team in Boston that was on a roll– 15-5 since the all-star break and 7-1 in their last 8 games to go from sub- .500 record and barely in the playoff picture to getting first place in the eastern division and home-court advantage (so far).  Lost the lead with 4 minutes to go in the 4th quarter but still wound up with the W.

  • DorieStreet

    Prior to the beatdown of the Cavs, Mills logged 4 minutes, 6 minutes, and a DNP-CD. Just being added to the team, maybe Pop held him out on the back-to-back due to that – or wants to keep our new weapon under wraps.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Shame on you for backing off. LOL!

  • DorieStreet

    Looking ahead—–    
    With the exception of a home game versus the Cavs on Earth Day, the other 13 remaining games in the month (and regular season) are against western conference teams. 6 of the 14 games are against teams out of the playoff hunt; 4 of the games are against two teams (Jazz & Suns) trying to get into the last spot(s) in the postseason; 1 game versus last year’s playoff foe the Grizzlies; and 3 games versus the drama queens–2 of them out on the west coast.

  • Bry

    I said 6-3 and then looked over the schedule and changed it to 7-2. I figured Manu’s return (and I think Splitter and Ford were coming back as well) would amp up the team. I don’t think anybody predicted they would win 8 games and their only loss would be when Pop basically only played the bench.

  • Bob

     It’s also a good way to punish teams that want to go small. Splitter should be able to easily post up any small ball power forward.

  • theghostofjh


  • Thaddeus Clark

    The Spurs just won a road game on the 2nd night of a back-to-back against a streaking opponent in which Parker, Ginoboli, and Leonard were ineffective. I’ll take it.

  • DorieStreet

    Ain’t gonna do it again–going with my schedule-team  anaylsis and gut feeling down the stretch. Stay tuned!!!

  • theghostofjh

    In the East, I have a feeling Rose will be fine before the playoffs start (supposed to be playing against the Knicks on Sunday). If so, I would favor the Bulls to come out of the East. Miami is by no means a heavy favorite in my view.

    In the West, it’s nearly impossible to predict the 4th through 8th seeds at present, with just about a dozen games remaining. For example, the Clips have 8 of their last 12 games against teams that are either below .500, or barely above .500. And as is, they have a game and a half lead over the Mavs & Griz. The]us, the odds are not strong that the Clips fall to 6th, although they certainly could. But the point is, it’s too difficult to even put much weight at all into speculating about who our likely 1st/2nd round match-ups will be.

  • Vivek

    It is always like that in TD Garden. Probably you don’t see that in tv. I am not sure you watch Boston games. Last playoffs Bosh was terrified by the crowd. 

  • grego

    And Boston scored 38 in the 2nd half on 40.5% fg. That’s not bad at all. 

  • Vermont Spurs Fan

    I have not been a Celtics fan since I was a kid and you HAD to choose between the Celtics and the Lakers – especially growing up in Missouri land of no pro basketball. I went with McHale and Bird and the Celtics back then. When I went to college in the early 1990s I just fell in love with the Spurs. I have not seen many Celtics games in the last 20 years apart from the 2008 and 2009 finals. 

    This was my fist time at the Garden and I am thinking of a suing. It was so loud and such a hostile environment I thought I was at a NY Jets game or maybe Oakland Raiders. It was not only the hatred of the Spurs it was racism, it was terrible comments about the cheerleaders or any women that happened to be in the stands or on the court. I used to teach classes in Boston – either in Cambridge or in the Financial District and I always thought it was such an evolved place. I learned my lesson at this game. Please tell me that the tone is different at the AT&T Center? Tell me that we cheer the Spurs without such hatred for everyone else (except for the Lakers, we can boo them pretty loudly!)

  • Bhaskar Anoop

    Going by your example of rob Mahoney, hope you are’nt reviewing the NO game, you’ll end up writing the whole night with a margin of 20+!