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Fast Break: Celtics can’t finish against Spurs

04.04.12 at 9:44 pm ET
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Maybe they won’t meet in the finals — although with the way this season has gone, who can tell for sure — but the Celtics and Spurs put on an exciting show at the Garden on Wednesday. They played the first half at a breakneck pace, but settled in for an old fashioned defensive slugfest in the second.

The Celtics lost, 87-86, which snapped their five-game winning streak, but they remained one game ahead of Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division after the Sixers lost by 21 points at home against the Raptors.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

The new sixth man is Avery Bradley: There will be much made of Doc Rivers‘ decision to keep Ray Allen in the starting lineup and this game will only add fuel to the fire. Allen was understandably rusty in his first game back from his ankle injury, Bradley, however, showed no ill effects coming off the bench, scoring 13 points in the first half on 6-for-11 shooting and holding Manu Ginobli to just two points and two shots.

For all the talk about whether Allen would make a good sixth man, it looks like the job belongs to Bradley. He was on the floor with the other four starters (minus Brandon Bass) is crunch time.

Rajon Rondo outplayed Tony Parker: On a night when Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce struggled, it was Rondo who carried the load with 17 points and 11 assists. You can make a very good case that Parker has been the Spurs’ best player this season and Rondo outplayed him.

The defense didn’t always rest: After getting torched for 59 points in the first half, the Celtics’ defense tightened up in the third quarter, allowing just nine points on 4-for-20 shooting. They weren’t much better offensively — scoring just 16 points on 6-for-17 shooting — but their defense allowed them to get back in the game.

WHAT WENT WRONG

So that’s what a good bench looks like: Before the game, Rivers noted that the Celtics were facing the teams with what he believes are the two best reserve units in the league: San Antonio and Chicago. The Spurs opened up a 17-point lead in the second quarter, thanks to 11-for-13 shooting. The kicker was that Ginobli didn’t do much that quarter. It was Gary Neal, Matt Bonner and Stephen Jackson who did the damage.

Not one for The Big Three museum: Pierce had a chance to win the game at the buzzer, but his contested mid-range jumper fell short. This was a familiar reprieve in the second half as Pierce had several chances to put the Celtics ahead but couldn’t finish. Garnett shot just 7-for-19 and had a bad turnover late in the game. In his first game back, Allen was just 2-for-6, although he did hit a huge 3-pointer late. Combined, the veteran All-Stars shot less than 40 percent (16-for-41) .

Free throw issues: The Celtics didn’t get to the line very much with just 13 attempts, which was fine because they didn’t shoot them very well, making just six.

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