The San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics met Wednesday night in Boston, each carrying a win streak. The Spurs had won eight straight, the Celtics five in a row. It looked for a while like the Spurs would cruise easily to their ninth consecutive victory, but the Celtics had a big second half to even the score down the stretch. In the end, though, the Celtics blew their game-winning attempt and fell to the Spurs, 87-86.
This was a game dominated by bench play on both ends of the floor. The Celtics got Ray Allen back in the starting lineup after a six-game absence, but it was his understudy, Avery Bradley, who led the team with 19 points and a splendid job defending Manu Ginobili (held to five points). Also, Sasha Pavlovic put down a reverse dunk off a backcourt steal. That was a non-fictional thing that happened.
San Antonio got even more from their reserves, particularly in the first half. While Danny Green led a balanced scoring effort with 14 points, the shooting of Gary Neal and Matt Bonner really boosted the Spurs in the first half. San Antonio went bananas in the first two quarters, leading by as many as 17 points and carrying an 11-point edge into halftime.
The Spurs hit a wall in the second half, though. The Celtics tightened up defensively and San Antonio suddenly couldn't get the ball anywhere near the rim. They missed nearly all their jumpers and often denied themselves opportunities entirely by turning the ball over. After a typically high-scoring 59-point first half, San Antonio registered just nine(!) points in the third quarter and 28 in the second half altogether.
As you might imagine, that breakdown allowed the Celtics to creep back into the game. They were only slightly more effective than San Antonio in the third quarter, but got some useful buckets from Pierce and Rajon Rondo to narrow the gap. In the fourth, Rondo took command of the offense, finding a couple baskets for himself, but mostly hitting teammates (often Bradley) for good looks to pull Boston even. Allen's three cut the deficit to just one point in the final minute and, after Kevin Garnett recovered a San Antonio miss, the Celtics had a chance to win it on their final possession. After burning some timeouts just to inbound the ball, Pierce received a pass up top, dribbled over a pick to draw Tim Duncan on a switch, then dribbled in, stepped back, and ... rimmed out what would have been the game-winning jumper.
Even with the second half collapse, San Antonio's ninth straight victory has Pounding The Rock thinking championship:
When our championship DVD is created, this game should be included. It's a game that future champions win. It was a hostile environment. The Spurs managed to build a 17 point lead early on only to watch the Celtics chip away and eventually take the lead in the fourth. The crowd was in it, and we could not stop turning the ball over. The momentum had swiftly swung to the Celtics, and the officials knew they were in Boston. The Spurs should lose this game. I've watched this kind of game play out countless times and instinctively know how it ends. Only this is not just any other year. This is a special year. We will not lose these games. If it's close in the fourth, confidently predict the win. This is our year. The Spurs are a juggernaut and the timing is perfect. I'm all in. Championship.
It's certainly important to overcome one's own failures in the playoffs, and the Spurs definitely did that after their miserable second half in Boston.
For all of Wednesday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.