March 17, 2002
SAN ANTONIO - Since the Celtics have a habit of making dramatic late-game comebacks, the result of last night's matchup with San Antonio took a couple of minutes to register. Boston was burdened with an unfamiliar feeling of disappointment leaving the court at the Alamodome, having fallen to the Spurs, 111-104. The loss snapped a season-high seven-game winning streak, marking the first time since March 1 that the Green had failed to pull out a game.
For all their confidence, composure, and unwillingness to quit down the stretch, the Celtics could not stop the Spurs. The inside presence of Tim Duncan proved too much, and when he wasn't beating Boston with layups and free throws, Danny Ferry was stepping up from 3-point range. Paul Pierce said it was a case of "pick your poison." The Celtics selected Ferry, and suffered the consequences, as he scored 10 of the Spurs' final 12 points on his way to a season-high 18 points.
"I thought when they put Ferry in the basketball game, it was a dilemma for us," said coach Jim O'Brien. "We were trying to sag a couple people on Duncan and be able to cover the perimeter, and Ferry hit some big shots down the stretch. We put ourselves in a position to win and could not get it done down the stretch."
With 4 minutes left, San Antonio held a 99-89 advantage and appeared poised to close out its ninth straight victory. But Boston, which had repeatedly come back from deficits big and small all night long, was not ready to concede anything. The Celtics made an 8-0 run, capped by a 3-point play from Pierce, and with a little more than 2 minutes remaining, they were primed for some more late-game drama. Instead, it was Ferry who came up with the big shots when his team needed them most.
Ferry nailed a 3-pointer with 2:11 to go, pushing the Spurs ahead by 5, 102-97. Then, with 30.6 seconds left and the Celtics having pulled within 4, Ferry sealed Boston's fate by hitting another 3-pointer as Pierce raced to the perimeter in a vain attempt to challenge the shot. The basket extended the Spurs' advantage to 107-101.
"To be honest, I thought we were right there," said Walker. "We played well enough to win the game, but right now we need wins and we're beyond the moral victory stage."
When the night started, there was only one NBA team hotter than the Celtics. It just happened to be San Antonio, which has always been a tough matchup for Boston, even without added momentum. While the Celtics have exorcised many ghosts from the past this season, the Spurs are not one of them. The curses of Tim Duncan (37 points), whom Boston has never beaten, of Texas, where Boston has lost six straight, and of the Alamodome, where Boston has never won, remain undiminished. The Celtics have not beaten the Spurs since Jan. 8, 1997, and have not won in San Antonio in more than a decade.
Knowing that a late comeback against one of the strongest teams in the West would not be nearly as easy as it was Friday night against the weakest, the Celtics worked to stay close throughout the first half. Despite trailing by as many as 9 points (28-19) in the first quarter and 6 (54-48) late in the second quarter, Boston entered the break behind by only 58-57. It was 80-79 after three.
The Celtics' efforts were helped by their 3-point shooting. They set a season high for 3-pointers by a Spurs opponent, making 12 in 31 attempts. The camapign from the arc was led by Walker and Pierce, who both finished with 31 points. Kenny Anderson (14 points) and Rodney Rogers (11 points) were the other Celtics in double figures, as the team shot 46.3 percent from the floor.
"We can play with the West, though, without a doubt," said Tony Delk (8 points). "We've got depth. We've got veterans. We've got guys who know how to play. We're always going to put ourselves in position to win. Once a team makes a run, we have enough offense to make a run back at them."
But last night, the Celtics came up one run short.