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San Antonio Spurs handle Boston Celtics, 115-96

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The shorthanded Boston Celtics couldn’t overcome the San Antonio Spurs, losing 115-96.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics found out the hard way: nothing is certain except death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs. Though Kyrie Irving recorded his 21st double-double of the season with 11 points and 12 assists, the Celtics shot just 40% from the field — 7-of-35 from three-point range — and couldn’t overcome 48 points from LaMarcus Aldridge, falling to the San Antonio Spurs, 115-96.

Boston returned both Hayward and Baynes tonight, but the injury list remained a significant factor nonetheless. Jayson Tatum did not play after suffering a back injury on Saturday night against Charlotte, and Al Horford sat out his second consecutive game with the team managing concerns over his nagging knee issues. Ultimately, those losses would prove crucial, as the Celtics would do little more than remain vaguely competitive for much of the game.

Horford’s absence weighed particularly heavily on the Celtics in this matchup. In the face of Boston’s undermanned frontcourt, the Spurs enjoyed an absolute tour de force from Aldridge, who set the tone very early by scoring 19 points while playing all 12 minutes in the first period. However, though the Celtics missed their first seven three-point attempts, they remained reasonably competitive in the early going, led by a resurgent Marcus Morris (eight points in the quarter) and the customary max-effort from Smart.

Aldridge’s surge defined the Spurs through the first half. He scored 25 on 11-of-17 shooting, while only one other Spur took more than five attempts (DeRozan, with 9) or scored more than six points. San Antonio scored 23 points in the second quarter, but the Celtics only managed to play them to a draw, as they hit just 2-of-19 three-point attempts in the half.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the Celtics tonight was the return of Hayward, who spent Boston’s previous three games in the NBA’s concussion protocol after an injury early in the first quarter of the team’s victory over the Atlanta Hawks. Hayward wasted no time in establishing himself in the game, playing a team-high 19 minutes in the first half and scoring 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting while leading the team in rebounds. By this point, it’s been well-established that the Celtics have been more successful when Hayward has performed well, so his quick start was undeniably encouraging.

The third quarter brought more of the same, with Aldridge compiling another 11 more points. The Celtics struggled to claw within a couple possessions of the lead, trading blows but ultimately treading water without making any progress. With 6:30 to play, an Irving three-pointer cut the lead to four, but the Spurs quickly pushed back to a double-digit cushion. At the end of the third, they led by 12.

The fourth quarter proved it just wasn’t meant to be. A Marcus Smart three-pointer early in the quarter cut the San Antonio lead to just 11, but despite Boston’s best efforts, the Spurs had a counter for every blow, pushing their lead to 22 with four minutes remaining in the game. Ultimately, the Spurs were in control of this one from the closing minutes of the first quarter to the final buzzer. Without two crucial starters in Horford and Tatum, the Celtics just had no recourse.

Next up, the Celtics will look to snap their four-game losing streak on Tuesday night, traveling to Cleveland to face the Cavaliers at 7 PM EST on NBC Sports Boston.