Yesterday, Brad Stevens gushed about Pop and the Spurs before facing them this afternoon, after talking about molding his young Celtics after San Antonio during the preseason:
"They've impacted some of what we do, offensively, certainly," said Stevens. "We don't run the same stuff, but I want the same ideas: Great pace, great space, playing really unselfish, not holding onto the ball too long. And we've had times when we've been really good at that and times when where we need to get better. But I think it's a fun way to play. It's fun to watch. I don't think you can ever try to be somebody else. You have to be your best you. But I think you can take tidbits from people."
Stevens has fashioned Boston's read-and-react offense to San Antonio's, but ironically, his first strategic move today was on the defensive end, inserting Tyler Zeller in the starting lineup to face Tim Duncan. In the first quarter, there were mixed results. Duncan scored six points coming off of little picks and catching Zeller out of position and Boston seemed content to let San Antonio shoot 3-for-9 beyond the arc. So much of what the Spurs do is beating defenses while they recover and Boston did a good job not overreacting and over-rotating on SA's motion.
On the offensive end, Zeller and Rondo hooked up on another pick-and-roll:
With Zeller in the starting lineup (and Brandon Bass the first big off the bench), that added Kelly Olynyk to the second unit in the second quarter. With a very aggressive Evan Turner, it added another playmaker to the mix of shooters of Marcus Thornton, Avery Bradley, and Jared Sullinger. While Olynyk's scoring has gone down over the last five games, his biggest strength has been his threat from the outside, his ability to put it on the floor, and his passing vision:
That squad went on a 16-5 run and had the lead up to 9 when most of the starters returned to the floor. Boston went into halftime with a four point lead; it could have been bigger but the Spurs benefited from a vet-friendly whistle in the first half. Boston committed 10 team fouls to San Antonio's 2(!). However, they forced 10 Spurs' turnovers that resulted in 17 points.
The second half started with the Spurs out-Spuring the Celtics. Whether it was Tony Parker penetrating into the lane, Kawhi Leonard driving to the hoop, or the San Antonio bigs surgically cutting up Boston's interior defense, they erased the deficit by the six-minute mark. What's tough about defending the Spurs--and what Stevens' strives to replicate with the Celtics--is that even if you take something away, they'll find another way to score. In the first half, they settled a lot from the perimeter and in the third quarter, they forced the issue in the paint. Even Matt Bonner put it on the floor at one point. The Spurs outscored the Celtics 33 to 24 and it felt like they were just toying with Boston.
That trend continued in the fourth quarter. Defensively, Boston's weaknesses were taken advantage of again. Although the C's have great individual perimeter defenders, all it takes is a pick to free up a wing man for a drive.
Manu Ginobli and Cory Joseph turned the corner a few times for easy layups against Sullinger, Bass, and Green. Pick-and-rolls have been the bane to Boston's D all season and until Stevens decides to play them more aggressively, they'll continue to get burned. Offensively, the ball just stopped moving and I really think that was by design by the Spurs. They gave a lot of room to the Celtics' ballhandlers and Boston obliged by forcing a lot of drives and not moving the ball.
A game like this really puts the Celtics' development into perspective. As a fan, you start mumbling to yourself questions that Danny Ainge and Stevens will be pondering over the next few months (especially before the trade deadline): What are we missing? Who are these Celtics? How can we improve? This sounds like I'm being a homer, but honestly, I don't see a big talent gap between our roster and the Spurs. They just have a system where all fifteen players buy in every night and compete. With Boston, there are stretches where you can see what Stevens is trying to do with these Celtics but when the third and fourth quarters roll around, they stall.
Stevens on his team in today's game: https://t.co/SrY4H6MfM6— KWAPT (@KWAPT) November 30, 2014