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Celtics come back but can’t close the deal, lose to Spurs 96-88

Boston was down 24 in the first half and took a 4th quarter lead, only to give up a 15-0 run to close the game

Boston Celtics v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs blew a 24-point lead, but closed the game with an unbelievable 15-0 run to beat the Boston Celtics, 96-88. Dejounte Murray made the key shots down the stretch and was the Spurs’ high scorer with 29 points.

The Celtics were led by Jayson Tatum’s 24 points (21 in the second half) and 16 from Jaylen Brown, who played through his ongoing hamstring issue.

The Cs again were without Josh Richardson and Rob Williams, still sidelined with non-Covid illness. Dennis Schröder got the start instead of Grant Williams, as the Celtics went smaller than usual.

Also of note, Ime Udoka — who spent seven seasons as a Spurs assistant coach — lost his first meeting as a head coach with former boss Gregg Popovich.

If it feels like the Celtics have trouble beating San Antonio, that’s because they do. Before tonight, the Spurs had won 16 of the last 19 meetings. However, in their most recent game last season, Tatum dropped 60 points to lead Boston to an overtime victory. This year, San Antonio seems destined for the lottery.

After their brutal night shooting threes against Brooklyn, the Celtics came out moving the ball and driving to the paint. Nevertheless, they still couldn’t get shots to drop. It took 2:50 before Tatum made Boston’s first field goal, and when the first timeout was called at 7:09, the Cs trailed 10-3 and were shooting 1-of-12.

The rest of the quarter was no better. The Spurs made their next four 3-point attempts while extending their lead to 26-7. Jabari Parker drained two free throws and a triple in the final 30 seconds to somewhat right the ship, but the quarter ended with Boston down 30-14. The Celts were 5-of-26 (19.2%) from the field while the Spurs were 13-of-29 (44.8%).

It somehow got worse when the Spurs opened the second quarter with a 10-2 run. The Celtics were playing hard, but they simply couldn’t make a shot. They had a possession where they crashed the boards and got four good looks. They made none.

Just when all seemed hopeless, the Celtics came alive with a 19-2 burst keyed by a 6-point possession. Schröder splashed an elbow jumper and Jakob Poeltl committed a Flagrant 1 foul by stepping under Schröder’s feet. No. 71 shook off a twisted ankle to complete the 3-point play, and on the extra possession, Aaron Nesmith buried a trey. Jaylen Brown capped the run with two straight triples, cutting the Spurs lead to 43-35.

The Spurs regrouped and got their own break when Al Horford was called for a flagrant similar to Poeltl’s, awarding Murray three free throws. The halftime score was 52-37, Spurs. The shooting was still lopsided (28% to 48.9%), and San Antonio enjoyed a 28-16 advantage for points in the paint.

The Celtics needed a big third quarter to make it a game, and they got it. Tatum (1-of-9 in the first half) was 4-of-6 for 9 points, and Jaylen added 7 points. Boston crawled to within 70-63 with 12 minutes to play.

The Cs opened the 4th with 5 straight points to draw within 2, and when Grant Williams buried a straightaway three, the Celtics had their first lead at 74-72. Tatum’s triple and a layup from following his own miss upped Boston’s margin to 81-76 with 6:07 to play.

Everything looked good until the Spurs fought back to within 88-87 on a Murray layup with two minutes left. Derrick White followed with a pullup jumper, Murray hit two more short jumpers. The Spurs’ lead was 5, and the Celtics were done.

The Celtics are now 10-10 overall and 5-6 on the road. They will complete this brief but unusual road trip (Boston to San Antonio to Toronto) Sunday against the Raptors, on NBC Sports Boston at 6 p.m. EST.

For more postgame coverage of the roller coaster night, tune into the Garden Report Postgame Show LIVE on CLNS Media right after the game. Join A Sherrod Blakely, Bobby Manning, Josue Pavón, Jimmy Toscano and host John Zannis for a full breakdown. Plus, the guys will discuss the Celtics’ futility in San Antonio.