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Celtics-Spurs Preview

12.03.09 at 11:36 am ET
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After nailing down their fifth straight win on Tuesday night, a 108-90 thumping of the Charlotte Bobcats, it appears the Boston Celtics (14-4) might be regaining their swagger.

Meanwhile, a certain team in San Antonio (9-6) might be hitting its own stride. After making a splash this summer by trading for former New Jersey Nets star Richard Jefferson (career 17.6 ppg), it appeared the Spurs positioning themselves to contend for another NBA title. But after a three-game skid dropped their season record to 4-6, questions began to surface about age, chemistry and hunger for winning.

So much for that.

Five straight victories for San Antonio and they’€™re right back in the title talks. That being said, the black and silver has been beating up mostly on second-tier teams; their game Thursday night against the Celtics will be another matter.

Both teams teams have been hot of late, and neither is a stranger to the NBA spotlight. The Celtics dominated the league in 2007 en route to their 17th NBA Championship, meanwhile seemingly every year the Spurs are on the brink of grabbing one of their own, including winning four titles in the past 10 years.

Tonight’€™s 8 p.m. clash has just about everything: the names, the legacy, and the anticipation. But how does everything else pan out? Let’€™s take a look:

Recent Performance

On A Roll ‘€“ Both teams come in winners of five straight, though neither streaks have been star studded. Aside from Boston’€™s 92-85 win on Sunday over the 10-5 Miami Heat, none of the Celtic’€™s past five victories have come against opponents above .500. In fact, before taking down the Heat, the last time the Celtics beat a team with more notches in the win column than the loss column was back on Nov. 11, a 105-96 win over the now 10-7 Utah Jazz.

Similarly, San Antonio has benefited from a rather smooth stretch in their schedule, helping them get back on track after losing three straight in mid-November. The only above .500 team in the Spurs’€™ past five wins? The 10-8 Houston Rockets, whom San Antonio disposed of 92-84 back on November 27. But you’€™d have to travel all the way back to that same Nov. 11 to find the last time the Spurs beat an above .500 team prior to the Rockets, a 92-83 win over the Dallas Mavericks.

Head to Head

Strangely Familiar ‘€“ They may not meet that often, but when they do, chances are it’€™ll be memorable. Boston and San Antonio have yet to collide this season, but last year they met two times – as they do every season ‘€“ and both games were spectacular. The Spurs took the first game, a 105-99 nail-biter that had San Antonio taking the lead with 20.4 seconds left off a Roger Mason three, stunning a packed house at the Garden. The second game, however, was taken by the Celtics in an equally exciting matchup, an 80-77 victory at the AT&T Center in Texas. Kendrick Perkins netted the game-winner for the Celtics, who escaped San Antonio with KG on the bench for the entire fourth quarter – in part thanks to the Spurs’€™ six consecutive free-throw misses to close out the game.

Boston swept the two-game series in 2007-08, but the two split again back in 2006-07 with both teams winning their home matchups.

Scouting Report

Defense Wins Championships ‘€“ It’€™s no secret to anyone in the NBA how the Spurs run their team: a combination of stout defense and scoring mainly from anyone on the floor named Duncan, Parker or Ginobli. But the addition of Richard Jefferson this season has helped alter that perception a little, giving the Spurs a potent fourth option when it comes to putting the ball in the net. So far in 2009, Jefferson has averaged a solid 13.5 points a game, a nice complement to point guard Tony Parker (16.5) in the absence of guard Manu Ginobli (groin injury). But regardless of how much or how little Jefferson steps up, the Spurs are still the same old Spurs, and they live and die by perennial All-Star forward and team-leader, Tim Duncan.

As a result, the most exciting matchup within the Spurs-Celtics rivalry is as it has been for the past three seasons ‘€“ Tim Duncan vs. Kevin Garnett. Seeing those two do battle in the paint is like watching history collide. Whenever two NBA greats the likes of Garnett and Duncan meet on the hardwood, it’€™s bound to be exciting, particularly considering that the two play the same position and will literally be matching up head-to-head.

Key Statistic

.833 ‘€“ After posting a very less-than-Allen .259% from beyond the arc in his past six games, Ray Allen heated up in a big way in the Celtics win over the Bobcats. Allen nailed five of six shots from three-point range on Tuesday night, was a perfect 10-10 from the free throw line and finished the night with a game-high 27 points. The Celtics would like that hot shooting to carry over to tonight’€™s game against a tough defensive squad in the San Antonio Spurs, who are surrendering 96.5 points a game, 10th in the NBA.

3/4 ‘€“ the amount of major statistical categories in which Tim Duncan leads the Spurs, furthering the notion that the black and silver go as No. 21 goes. So far in 2009, Duncan leads San Antonio with 18.5 points per game, 10.8 rebounds and an intimidating 2.00 blocks per contest. He even ranks third on the team in assists with 3.7, a rarity for a power forward with the size of Duncan.

Health/Injuries

The Ginobli We All Know and Love ‘€“ He’€™s back on the injured list ‘€“ again. Oh wait, never mind, he’€™s off. Wait, no, he’€™s back on. Okay, forget it ‘€“ he’€™s off it now. Ginobli finally returned to the Spurs lineup on Sunday, a 97-89 win over the 76ers that had the Spurs’€™ star bench-player contribute 17 minutes on the court, netting only eight points and grabbing three rebounds. Obviously a sub-par game for Ginobli, who is averaging 13.5 points a game in ‘€™09, but it’€™s apparent he doesn’€™t have his sea legs back yet after injuring his groin in the Spurs’€™ loss to the Jazz back on Nov. 19. Since then, the injury has kept the Argentinean born guard out for five-straight games until returning on Sunday. He’€™s only appeared in 10 games this season, and may not be at full-strength tonight against the Celtics, something that will undoubtedly hurt the Spurs both on the offensive and defensive ends.

On the other hand, San Antonio’€™s backup guard, Roger Mason (7.1), who was a thorn in the Celtics’ side last season, may be cleared to play Thursday night. The Spurs’€™ off-the-bench hot shooter has been dealing with a hamstring injury that held him off the court in Sunday’€™s win over the 76ers, but he is expected to be available for Thursday night’€™s clash with the Green. In his last two games before injuring the hamstring, Mason posted a combined 28 points, shooting a torrid 66.7 percent from the field.

Nothing new for the Celtics on the injury front, as the usuals — Glen “Big Baby” Davis” and Tony Allen — will be sidelined for tonight’€™s matchup. News for Tony Allen is that the Celtics will be without the 6-foot-4-inch shooting guard for the entirety of their four game road-trip, and he will be re-evaluated when the club returns to Boston.

Quotable

Big Four? - “Those situations were created by that little guy. He was excellent tonight, really. … I thought he controlled this game as well as anybody and I don’t know if his stat line is really as indicative of how much impact he had on this game.” – Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on Celtics’€™ point guard Rajon Rondo after Sunday’€™s game.

He’€™s no longer a secret in the NBA. Rajon Rondo continues to improve daily, and the Celtics have all the confidence in the world in him, evident in his new five-year, $55 million contract. It will be another tough night for the point guard however, as he goes toe-to-toe with perennial All-Star Tony Parker, who is averaging 16.5 points a game this season. It’€™s apparent that a lot of this game hinges on Garnett vs. Duncan ‘€“ but make no mistake about it, it will be no small battle at the point.

Read More: Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Spurs
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