If you expected the visiting San Antonio Spurs to roll over and die against the Celtics just because they were sitting four key players in Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter, then you don't know much about this Spurs team. The beauty of Gregg Popovich's system is it works almost as well with Boris Diaw and Cory Joseph as it does with the stars.
The Celtics knew this going in, of course. Brad Stevens marveled before the game, in fact, that some of the most inspiring basketball he's ever seen has come from the Spurs "when they're resting their guys." (He then added that some other of the most inspiring play he's seen is the Spurs "when they have their guys." In conclusion: The Spurs are always good.)
Postgame, Stevens was singing the same tune. After watching the Spurs come to life and put them away late, buoyed by 23 second-half points from Tim Duncan, he couldn't help but rave a little bit.
"Those guys," the Celtics coach said. "No matter who they have, they put a lot of pressure on you. The way that they move the ball - it's basketball the way basketball should be played. It's a pleasure to watch unless you're the one coaching against them."
For the Celtics, it was a fitting conclusion to the first half of the season. After losing 104-92, the C's now head into the All-Star weekend (more like a full All-Star week off, as they don't play again until next Wednesday) at 19-35. They won four games out of five these last couple weeks, but justifiably, they lost tonight to a better, more experienced team.
"I don't really look too much at the last game before the All-Star break," said Gerald Wallace, who's been through quite a few All-Star weekends in his career. "A lot of times, most guys are already on vacation, especially with a young team like this. San Antonio is an experienced team - they knew what to do. We've just got to throw this game out the window."
Overall, the Celtics have made strides over the last couple of weeks. With Rajon Rondo back (and surprisingly boasting a jump shot), Kelly Olynyk breaking out and Jared Sullinger hitting his stride, the team has more reason for optimism now than it's had in a while. But still, 19-35 is one of the six or seven worst records in the league, a frustrating fall from grace for a perennial playoff team with a lot of talented players.
"I didn't come here thinking that we were going to be struggling like this," said Kris Humphries. "I think you're a loser if you come in saying this is how we'd perform."
For the NBA's giants, the title-contending teams like San Antonio and Miami, the All-Star break is a chance to enjoy a vacation and bask in the midseason glory. For the Celtics, it's a chance to lick a few wounds and address a few weaknesses.
"I want them to get rest," Stevens said. "If they're dinged up, I want them to get healthy. I want them to feel good when Monday or Tuesday rolls around, but at the same time, I want them to continue to think about what makes us good and what makes us not as good. We'll hammer that at practice when we get back together."
The Celtics have a lot to build on right now, considering their recent successes, but the weeks ahead will bring a lot more challenges - especially considering that the second-half schedule begins next week with a lethal Phoenix team.
"We've got to everybody healthy and everybody on the same page," said Wallace. "We're missing Avery [Bradley], Jared's sick, guys are banged up. I think this break comes at a good time for us - we've got to get everybody on the same page.
"Right now, we have spurts where we're on the right page and spurts where we're not. Sometimes we look like a team, and sometimes we look like five individuals playing basketball. We've got to get everybody together and continue to move forward."