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Comeback for nothing: 10 Takeaways from Celtics-Spurs

Boston had a 31-point turnaround during the game, but fell apart down the stretch

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

1. Well…that was a new way to rip the heart out of Boston Celtics fans everywhere. Sure, a loss is a loss, but if Boston lost in San Antonio by 25 points, you shrug and move on. Over the years, the Celtics have lost at the Spurs more than anywhere else.

To come back from a huge deficit and to hold a seven-point lead with 3:21 to play, and still lose? That’s dispiriting and crushing. Here’s how it happened.

2. The big comeback was necessary because the Celtics were about as bad as you could be to start this game. The Spurs led 30-14 after the first quarter. In that opening period, Boston shot a pathetic 5-of-26 overall. That included an incomprehensible 4-of-17 on shots in/around the paint.

Things got only slightly better by halftime, as the Celtics were shooting 28% overall and 4-of-18 from behind the arc. It looked like yet another blowout in the Alamo city was on tap.

3. The third quarter began the reversal of fortune. The first hoop of the second half featured a drive to the paint and an extra pass for a Jaylen Brown three-pointer:

This is good ball movement again and this shot from Grant Williams resulted in Boston’s first lead of the night:

4. For most of the second half, Marcus Smart was making everything happen. He had Derrick White clamped down here:

Then Smart made a play that it sometimes feels like only he makes:

5. Late in the fourth quarter, Boston figured out San Antonio was playing a Box-and-1 defense on Jayson Tatum. Smart does a good job here of getting into the middle of the zone for a basket:

Unfortunately, these are the last points Boston would score.

6. The above basket gave the Celtics a lead of 88-81 with 3:21 to play. From that point forward, the Spurs went on a 15-0 run to end the game. No points for over three minutes, while the opponent dropped 15.

During this stretch Boston shot 0-for-5 with one turnover. Six offensive possessions without a positive result. During the same period, San Antonio shot 5-for-6 and the Spurs made 5-of-6 free throws.

7. As they did early in the game, the Celtics reverted to missing shots in the paint. This is one Jayson Tatum has to make:

Jakob Poeltl is one of the better rim-protectors in the NBA, but Jaylen Brown has to go up stronger here and take the contact. Swooping around Poeltl is what the Spurs want:

This play kind of encapsulated the loss. Tatum gets a head of steam and gets the Spurs to bite on the fake. He could go up strong here and maybe create an and-1 opportunity. Instead, Tatum fades away and leaves the one-legged jumper short:

Boston also returned to slowing the game way down when things got tight. During the comeback, all the way to the seven-point lead, the Celtics got the ball up quickly and attacked early in the shot-block. Down the stretch, Boston averaged about 19 seconds of eating clock per possession. That played right into the Spurs hands, especially as they set that Box-and-1 defense on many trips.

8. Maybe he was tired after helping lead the comeback, but this defense from Marcus Smart isn’t good enough. Dejounte Murray wants to get to his right hand for the floater in the paint. Smart gives him the path to his pet shot:

9. It wasn’t just the players on the floor either. Ime Udoka made some questionable lineup decisions. As mentioned above, Marcus Smart helped key the comeback, but he’s always going to be a part of the closing lineup. Two others who drove the comeback deserved better on Friday night.

Enes Kanter and Grant Williams were both terrific in this game. Surprisingly, Kanter had a very good defensive impact. The Spurs don’t run a ton of straight pick-and-roll, so targeting Kanter on defense is hard to pull off. Boston did a lot of off-ball switching around Kanter, while the big man just stayed by the rim. It worked to great success, as Kanter was a +28 for the game.

Williams was just as good. He was excellent on defense and was moving the ball, setting screens and hitting shots on offense. He also played with fire and passion when the Celtics needed a lift.

Yes, Al Horford and Dennis Schroder are probably going to close most games. But neither player had it going against the Spurs. Their defensive impact was somewhere between neutral and negative. And offensively, the two combined to shoot 5-of-22.

Unless Kanter and Williams were so gassed that they couldn’t continue, they deserved to be out there at the end of the game.

10. This went from a bad loss to a completely different kind of bad loss. The Spurs aren’t a good team, and they aren’t even trying all that hard to be one. They play hard, but Gregg Popovich knows this is a development season for his team. However, give anyone hope in the NBA and they’ll snatch a victory from you.

Boston is now off to Toronto, which hasn’t been quite the house of horrors San Antonio has been, but it’s still a tough place to win. With a west coast trip looming to start December, that’s a win the Celtics have to have.

And that’s because Boston blew this one in a new, frustrating, heartbreaking way. Well, at least the build up was new. The endgame was all too familiar for Celtics fans.

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