After another collapse at home on Friday, the Celtics played their second afternoon game of the holiday weekend against the Spurs on Sunday at the TD Garden. Similar to Friday, the Celtics dropped another one in which they remained competitive until late. This time, however, the Spurs’ hot second half led to a 111-89 victory for the road team.
The Celtics high man was Jeff Green with 16 points. He was one of five Celtics in double figures, while Tyler Zeller ripped down 10 rebounds. The Spurs also had five players in double figures, led by Danny Green with 18 points. San Antonio had much deeper contributions than Boston, though, as 10 of their players scored five or more points.
Here are five things we learned in another home loss for the Celtics:
BRAD STEVENS IS NOT AFRAID TO PLAY MATCHUPS
Stevens told the media prior to the game that Zeller would be getting the start at center over the struggling Kelly Olynyk.
The coach felt that the decision was based more on a need for Zeller in this particular game more than anything. When asked why the choice to start Zeller was made, Stevens simply responded, “Defending Tim Duncan would be the obvious answer.”
Although the move may last only one game, Stevens didn’t close the door on Zeller remaining in the starting lineup in the future.
“I look at this as a very temporary thing,” Stevens said before tip-off. “I don’t look at this as a full-time thing, nor do I look at it as something that our guys will over-blow. I just think it makes sense today and we’ll reevaluate things on Tuesday.”
The move may not have paid off exactly how Stevens wanted it too right away — Duncan had six points and two rebounds in the first quarter. However, Zeller was able to neutralize him in a sense, finishing with four points and five rebounds of his own.
In the end, the matchup was almost meaningless. Duncan played only 24 minutes and scored 14 points, while Zeller played only 18 minutes before finding himself on the court during garbage time.
THE CELTICS PLAYED DEFENSE IN THE FIRST HALF
The Celtics entered Sunday’s game ranked 28th in the NBA in opponent points per game, giving up 107.3 through 13 games. It’s safe to say that defense has been a struggle for Boston all season long.
Sunday was a different story. The Celtics kept the Spurs to 45 points in the first half, but it was how they did it that was most impressive. The C’s forced 10 turnovers in the half, blocked four shots and held San Antonio to 39.5 percent shooting. The second quarter swung the game significantly, as the Spurs shot just 29.4 percent and committed seven of their turnovers. The Celtics were able to outscore the Spurs in the second quarter by seven points, 27-20.
THE CELTICS DIDN’T PLAY DEFENSE IN THE SECOND HALF
After managing just 20 points in the previous quarter, the Spurs came out and scored 17 in the first six minutes of the third. San Antonio finished the period scoring 33 points, just 12 fewer than they had in the entire first half.
Even if you are good enough to stop the Spurs for a portion of the game, they also brought the league’s best defense to town, allowing only 92.7 points per game. Still …
THE CELTICS FOUND WAYS TO SCORE ON THE LEAGUE’S BEST DEFENSE FOR THREE QUARTERS
As they have all season, the Celtics found ways to score the ball. Through three quarters, the Celtics put up 73 points on 44 percent shooting — not great, but not bad. It was enough to keep the Celtics in the game (along with their early defense), as the Spurs shot 44 percent through three quarters as well. An 18-4 Boston run in the second quarter showed what they are capable of when playing their best on both ends of the floor.
However, as we know, basketball is a sport where you play four quarters. The fourth one can be tricky for these Celtics.
THE CELTICS LET ANOTHER ONE SLIP AWAY IN THE FOURTH QUARTER
As they have against the Raptors, Thunder, Cavaliers, Suns, Blazers, Bulls, and now Spurs, the Celtics lost a home game that was close in the fourth quarter.
All seven of those loses have either gone down to the wire, or have been winnable at the start of the fourth quarter on the Celtics’ home floor. Good teams win games in situations like that. Even bad teams win some of those games. But the Celtics couldn’t find a way to win any of them.
Boston only managed 16 fourth quarter points, while the Spurs scored 33 again, as they had in the third quarter. The Spurs’ 66 second half points are everything that is wrong with how the Celtics have played at home this year.
The Celtics have shown they have potential this season. None of it will matter until they prove they can close out a tight game at home.