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Game #66 - Recap: Celtics @ Spurs

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Great win for the Celtics last night in San Antonio. It is always good to beat the defending champs. And even though the Spurs are reeling, losers of four straight, they terrify me because they will do anything to win. Outside of Tony Parker and Manu "How the hell did I not make the All Star Game?" Ginobili San Antonio plays like a bunch of old guys who know every trick in the book. Some thoughts on last night's game:

Some Cause For Concern
Regular readers of Green Bandwagon know that I'm pretty optimistic when it comes to the Celtics. I don't generally overreact and probably have been influenced too much by Tommy Heinsohn when it comes to evaluating the team. Still even I was worried by a few developments last night:

  • How will Doc Rivers manage minutes once Ray Allen is healthy? He can't play Rajon Rondo, Sam Cassell and Ray Allen at the same time. Thankfully Rondo recovered from a bad start and finished with 20 points, 3 assists, 3 steals and 6 rebounds, one of which was huge down the stretch. But even that doesn't overshadow Cassell's 17 points and clutch three pointer. More on Cassell later. Back to Rondo. Mike Gorman and Donny Marshall went out of their way to praise Rondo and his growth as a player, almost as if they were trying to head off any point guard controversy. That's not to say the praise was unwarranted. And I'm one of the biggest Rondo supporters out there. Furthermore, Cassell and Rondo have completely different skill sets. But in the waning minutes of the game Cassell is probably on the court.
  • Lost in the euphoria of a great comeback win on the road is Kevin Garnett's crunch time performance. Did he make the right pass to find Cassell for the go ahead three pointer? Yes. Still I'd feel better if I knew that KG wanted to take that shot. And that's why it is so important to have Cassell. Also later on Garnett missed his jumper and was bailed out Rondo's monstrous rebound. Finally, that last inbounds pass could have led to a backbreaking loss.
  • I'm not sure what Doc Rives wants to get out of PJ Brown. But bringing him in that late in the game is probably not going to work. Although if Rivers is slowly getting Brown into game shape for when it really matters I understand.

Back to the Optimism

  • Sam Cassell was awesome last night. His final stat line doesn't do it justice. He changed the game by hitting some shots, talking trash to seemingly everyone (I'm looking at you Jacque Vaughn) and helped kick start a Celtics team that looked lethargic and a step slow early on in the game.
  • What a difference a year makes. Once again Paul Pierce stepped up big on the road in San Antonio. Remember he had a monster game there last season. But this time he had help and was able to contribute in such an efficient manner.
  • The Duncan/Garnett match up is fascinating because Duncan is so much bigger than KG. But Garnett did not back down. Even though I was critical about his crunch time performance I have to stress how important Garnett is. There are three power forwards/centers in the NBA - Duncan, Rasheed Wallace and Amare Stoudemire - that are match up nightmares for the entire league and Garnett gives the Celtics a fighter's chance against them. Huge. Come to think of it there are 4 with KG.
  • Rondo did not give up and let Cassell seize the conch from him. At times my belief that Rondo will someday make an All Star team seems Heinsohnesque. Last night showed a lot about his make up as a player. Say what you want about his athleticism, improved jumper, quickness and pesky defense but Rondo's defining trait may be that he has absolutely no fear. None.

The Officiating
I'm not big on whining about officiating because I am completely biased. And you can't ignore the massive free throw advantage the Celtics enjoyed in the first match up (34-13) and then complain about the refs in this one. But the funny thing was that things seemed to reach a boiling point when the referees reversed a shot clock violation call against the Spurs, giving the home team the ball out of bounds. But it was the right call. That tells you how egregious some of the earlier calls were. And Donny Marshall loses points for not authoritatively stating what everybody saw - the ball hit the rim. If Marshall can be honest about obvious calls like that one his complaints about the Spurs picking up their first foul in the 4th quarter with 3:11 to play will carry more weight. Finally, there were so many big personalities involved last night that towards the end the referees looked absolutely worn down.

The Spurs
I still admire them for trying to get an edge anyway possible. But it is a bit nauseating to watch them bitch and moan for four straight quarters. And Duncan is the biggest culprit of all. At one point the Big Fundamental hit a shot after battling KG in the post. And then Duncan ran down the court, found an official and said something along the lines of, "He can't put two hands on my back." He does it throughout the game and at times appears to be on the verge of tears. And then there is Bruce Bowen. I completely understand why players around the league hate him. At one point there was a loose ball and Bowen threw himself in front of a Celtic, possibly Rondo, knocking him down in the chaos of the situation. I could see how it would be a non-call. But the ref called a blocking foul, which was the right call. Bowen went into his whole arms raised/shocked face routine to no avail. The bigger issue was that he caught the Celtic off guard and hit him in a way that could cause injury. That's why players hate him. He gets them when they are vulnerable and in doing so gets in their heads. Also it was fascinating to hear Pierce's take on Bowen, via Greg Dickerson. Pierce said he never had a problem with Bowen as the recently suspended Spur tends to pick on shooting guards. And Dickerson alluded to the Celtics watching a YouTube clip, of which there are many, that showed Bowen's dirty tactics.

Overall the Spurs may be slowing down but they know what it takes. They will definitely be looking to bully teams come playoff time, which will only be helped by the addition of Kurt Thomas. Maybe that's why the Phoenix Suns had to add Shaq. It strikes me as a lot easier to bully a team with Shawn Marion than one with the Diesel. Finally, it's crazy how San Antonio is all of the sudden a 6th seed.