The Spurs are still the Spurs.
"Everybody is talking about Golden State and rightfully so, but the Spurs are right there," said Celtics coach Brad Stevens, as his team faced a double-digit deficit at halftime.
San Antonio may not be undefeated this season, but they are unbeaten on their own court after extending their home winning streak to 11 to begin the season.
The Spurs entered the night leading the league with a 92.1 defensive rating, which they lived up to tonight by holding the Celtics to 45.3% shooting. Boston also left a lot of points on the table by missing free throws, hitting only 15 of 22 (68.2%) at the charity stripe. I'm pretty sure we can't credit the Spurs defense for that, but who knows, Gregg Popovich might know something about defense that we don't know. Wouldn't surprise anyone.
The Celtics got off to a hot start early, scoring 27 points in the opening frame against a team that leads the league in allowing only 20 points per game in the first quarter. Avery Bradley led the way with a dozen points in the quarter, but didn't score again until the 4th to finish with 18.
Bradley was deprived of a basket in the second half when an inadvertent whistle blew the play dead on a fast break that looked to be headed for an easy layup. The call was a backcourt violation on San Antonio, despite that Bradley got to the ball first. Turns out that missed opportunity may have mattered in the end.
Most teams that find themselves down late in games against the Spurs tend to fade away down the stretch, but not this Celtics team. While they ultimately came up short, Boston went down fighting with a furious fourth quarter rally that made the game go down to the wire.
A Jae Crowder three-pointer brought the Celtics to within 1 with 2.7 seconds to go, but Kawhi Leonard answered by doing something the Celtics struggled with tonight - he hit both his free throws. Without a timeout in their pocket it left Boston little chance at a desperation shot to force overtime, but those chances declined significantly when Crowder's inbound pass sailed a bit too high for Jared Sullinger for a game sealing turnover.
The Spurs may not be making headlines the way the 21-0 Warriors are, but that's just the way they like it. In the end you know they'll be there among the contenders, which is a spot the Celtics can only aspire to get to.