The last time the Celtics beat the Spurs, Bill Parcells and Drew Bledsoe were in the middle of a Patriot Super Bowl run and we thought the two of them were going to be here forever.
The last time the Celtics beat the Spurs, Roger Clemens had just left the Red Sox for the Blue Jays after being told he was in the twilight of his career.
The last time the Celtics beat the Spurs, M.L. Carr was coaching the Green to a 15-67 season, which seemed certain to bring Tim Duncan and several more championship banners to Boston.
A lot of things happened after Jan. 8, 1997 (Celtics 107, Spurs 83). Parcells and Bledsoe were ultimately replaced by a couple of guys named Belichick and Brady. Clemens went on to win four more Cy Youngs in his twilight years, and something terribly unlucky happened in Secaucus, N.J., forever changing the fortunes of the Boston Celtics and the San Antonio Spurs.
Last night's 103-82 Spurs win makes it 16 in a row for San Antonio over Boston since that magic night in 1997. Duncan (15-0) has never lost to the Celtics and Paul Pierce has never played in a game in which the Celtics finished with more points than the Spurs.
In the hours before they took the court against the Spurs, the Celtics talked about the challenge of playing the world champs.
"Every game is a big game for us and they are the best team in basketball, so it is something of a measuring stick for us," admitted Pierce. "People have been talking about that [the losing streak] the last couple of days, but I don't think that's something that's hanging over our heads. This is a game we need to win at home that's how we approach it. It's not like we're going to win the championship tonight."
Coach Doc Rivers added, "Every night for us is a tough night, so far. What we've seen is that we can be in every game, but we have more building to do. I think when Detroit and San Antonio play, that's two teams that can say it's a barometer, but not us. We want to beat them and when we do, we'll still have a lot of work to do."
"We don't know who we are," said Rivers's boss, Danny Ainge. "We haven't been through things together."
Ainge knows something about these things. He played in many of the games in which the Celtics beat the Spurs 20 straight Back In The Day of Bird, Chief, and McHale. Danny knows what it's like to be a championship team, capable of coming into enemy homes and kicking the stuffing out of local hopes. That team used to be the Celtics. Now the Spurs are that team and Duncan is an unstoppable (quiet, but deadly) force.
The big fella torched the Green last night, scoring 29 points on 11-of-17 shooting with 12 rebounds in 31 minutes. Poor Mark Blount should be happy that the NBA doesn't keep plus-minus statistics. It would have been an ugly number for Boston's big man.
The Celtics did not exactly fly out of the gate. In the first eight minutes, the Spurs ran to a 20-6 lead as the Celtics committed six turnovers while making only three baskets. Duncan made 5 of 7 shots in that span, making it look incredibly easy. The talented troika of Lenny Clarke, Denis Leary, and Cam Neely watched from the front row and the sight of Hall of Famer Neely made you wish he could come off the bench to guard Duncan. At least he'd have put some body on the sensational center.
Rivers called time to stop the bleeding and rescued Blount, moving Raef LaFrentz over to guard Duncan. When it was 26-10, Duncan came out for a breather.
With Duncan on the bench, the Celtics shaved 10 points off the lead and it was 33-27 when he came back midway through the second. This time it was Al Jefferson's turn and he did a better job. The Celticstied it on a baseline dunk by Pierce three minutes before intermission.
It was a 3-point game at halftime, but before you could say "championship driven," the Spurs led, 58-45. It was 81-59 at the end of three and the gym started to empty before the start of the fourth. In theCeltics' first four games (2-2), they entertained the masses with two overtime contests and two decided by buzzer-beating shots, but on this night there was no hope of another cardiac finish. The fourth-quarter highlight came when they put the images of Tom Brady and Richard Seymour (seated along the baseline) on the big board. How about Seymour on Duncan?
Ainge is the one who said the Celtics don't know who they are and it may be several months before anyone can make any conclusions, but last night was a pretty good demonstration of who they are not. They are not the World Champion San Antonio Spurs. No disgrace in that.