Boston again proved it could play with any team last night, including
San Antonio, the choice of many to win the NBA championship. For three
quarters. But in the end, it was more of the same frustration and
disappointment for the Celtics
as they lost to the Spurs, 92-84, before 15,586 at the FleetCenter.
Another fourth-quarter collapse. Another longer-than-usual postgame team
meeting. Another round of semi-introspective quotes about youth,
inexperience, and inconsistency.
fourth quarter - we're just going to keep working on," said coach Doc
Rivers. "It just seems like one team stays aggressive on defense and
offense and one team stops, and right now it's us every time. The thing
that bothers me is offensively we get to the fourth quarter and all that
ball movement we have for three quarters stops. And everybody tries to
make a play. There is some good in that. The guys want to win, but you
can't win that way.
don't like our body language when things don't go right. When things
don't go right, we have to learn how to fight it anyway. We all share in
this. I have to do something better for [the players]. It's not what
we're running. It's more I have to get them to see what we see. We have
proven we can play with anybody, but we've also proven we need a little
extra inside to win."
was not talking about added size or strength in the paint. After all,
Boston outrebounded San Antonio, 44-29. He was speaking about the kind
of mental toughness that translates into strong fourth-quarter play. The
Celtics don't have it. Yet. They may not get it for a while.
been the story of the year," said Paul Pierce (25 points). "Somehow,
for some reason, we just melt down in the fourth quarter. It seems like
it's in our head right now, but I don't know. Somehow, some way we've
got to get over the hump. It's like when the fourth quarter comes, we're
a different team. Somehow, some way we've got to change that."
by a 31-6 run that stretched from late in the third until late in the
fourth, San Antonio came back from a 13-point deficit to take control.
When the spurt started, Boston led, 66-53, with 2 minutes 48 seconds
left in third. The Spurs reeled off 6 straight points to close the
quarter and gain momentum heading into the final period. As soon as
Robert Horry opened the fourth with a 3-pointer and brought the Spurs
within 66-62, the Celtics' shoulders slumped. They hung their heads and stood around, waiting for something to happen rather than making something happen.
layup by Malik Rose with 10:20 to go pushed San Antonio ahead for the
first time in the second half. The Spurs took the lead for good on a
pair of free throws by Tim Duncan (26 points). Manu Ginobili (21 points)
followed with a 3-pointer that further demoralized the Celtics. Tony Parker capped the big run with a layup that gave San Antonio an 84-72 lead with 3:54 to play.
did a good job of hanging in and grinding it out," said San Antonio
coach Gregg Popovich. "Guys didn't play well initially, but as the
second half wound down we played very good defense, and that gave us an
opportunity to generate some emotion and some juice on the offensive end
and we started making some shots."
fourth quarter marked a complete reversal of fortunes for both teams.
During the first half, Boston was unwilling to let its offense dictate
its defense. The Celtics' strong rebounding allowed them to overcome poor shooting (38 percent). The Celtics
also helped themselves by committing just three turnovers in the first
half. Boston built a 43-37 halftime lead behind the kind of effective
ball movement and unselfish, aggressive play it failed to sustain. When
it mattered most, the Spurs set an example of how a team accustomed to
winning plays in the fourth. As a result, San Antonio improved to 8-1,
marking its best start in more than two decades.
played an excellent game throughout," said Duncan. "I thought we just
kind of persevered through it. They missed some shots. We had some stops
in a row and then we started hitting our shots. It just all came
together in the fourth quarter. It is always a key for us to move the
ball. For our first nine games, that has kind of been our forte. When we
do that well, we are a hard team to guard."
the game, Rivers called the San Antonio "a great model" for how an NBA
team should play. After the game, it seemed a particularly prophetic