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Preview: Spurs at Celtics 01.05.11 at 12:03 pm ET
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With a little more than three minutes left, and his team down 11 points in New York, San Antonio Gregg Popovich pulled his starters Tuesday night, effectively signaling, no mas. This was interesting for two reasons. First, NBA teams just don’t do that, especially not in New York where the media scrutiny shines the brightest, and second, the Spurs play the Celtics tonight.

Popovich got away with it because he’s Popovich, and because even the most rah-rah fan would have to admit that pulling back on a game that could maybe go either way — but looks doubtful — in early January is not really a bad idea. Plus, it’s the freaking San Antonio Spurs, who won four championships since 1998 without a tenth of the drama normally associated with NBA teams, and who have the best record in the league. If Pop wants to make a statement, who’s going to argue with him?

After the game, Popovich called his team’s effort “pathetic,” and again, he had no arguments from his players who should be in a feisty mood for their one visit to TD Garden. This one doesn’t need any more advance hype — although it would be much better if Kevin Garnett was able to play against Tim Duncan.

The Spurs have the best record in the league (and the league’s best offense), while the Celtics sit at No. 2 with the league’s best defense. In many ways the Celtics are modeled after the Spurs, with Doc Rivers taking many lessons from his days in San Antonio with him to Boston.

This is simply as good as it gets in the NBA.

SAN ANTONIO SPURS (29-5, 8-2 last 10 games)

Offensive Rating: 112.4 (Points per 100 possessions, 1st)

Defensive Rating: 103.7 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 9th)

Pace: 93.3 (Possessions per game, 10th)

Likely Starters: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, Richard Jefferson, DeJuan Blair, Tim Duncan

Injuries: James Anderson (Foot, out)

CELTICS (26-7, 7-3 last 10 games)

Offensive Rating: 107.6 (11th)

Defensive Rating: 90.8 (1st)

Pace: 90.8 (22nd)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Glen Davis, Shaquille O’Neal

Injuries: Kevin Garnett (Calf, out), Delonte West (Wrist, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out).

KEY MATCHUP: Glen Davis vs. DeJuan Blair

Big Baby meet Dajuan Bear, in which 550 pounds, give or take, of bulk do battle on the boards. Blair averages 6.6 rebounds a game in 20 minutes of action. But crunch those numbers further, adjust for pace and time spent on the court and Blair is a more effective offensive rebounder than Kevin Love. Lost in the Love-fest Monday night was the fact that Davis grabbed one solitary rebound. He’ll have to do better tonight.

THREE STORYLINES

1. Can the Celtics defense contain the Spurs?

When we think of the Spurs we don’t often think of offense, but they have the league’s best this season thanks to an insanely efficient attack that features a league-best 40 percent shooting from behind the arc. Manu Ginobli, Richard Jefferson, George Hill and Matt Bonner all have True Shooting percentage over 60 percent and that’s before anyone has to account for Duncan or Tony Parker.

2. Is this an NBA finals preview?

While all the attention in the Western Conference has focused on the Lakers and their various serial dramas, the Spurs have quietly reinvented themselves as the class of the conference. It doesn’t hurt that they have been relatively injury-free or that they have once again unearthed a gem in Gary Neal, who floated around Europe for three years before coming to the NBA. The Spurs are loaded.

3. How healthy is Rajon Rondo?

In his two games since returning from his ankle injury, Rondo has been good, but he hasn’t been Rondo. We have yet to see the explosive athletic ability that is the hallmark of his game and what truly separates him from his contemporaries at the point guard position. He’ll have his hands full with Parker tonight.

Read More: Celtics, Preview, Spurs,
Spurs, Ginobili make C’s look ‘awful’ 03.29.10 at 12:55 am ET
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When Doc Rivers said before the game he wanted his team to take a page out of the Spurs book on winning championships and playing consistently, Manu Ginobili might as well have been the author on Sunday night.

“It was one of those nights, guys,” Rivers said. “We played awful. I thought they wanted to play. You know, the first quarter I thought was terrific. I thought the bench came in in the second quarter and just everybody went iso. There was no ball movement at all with that group. And then after that I thought the starters came back in, got us back into the game, and then the third quarter was awful for us. But I thought in the third quarter is when they stopped moving the ball, I thought offensively. And defensively we struggled all night. Ginobili was fantastic and [DeJuan] Blair in the fourth quarter was a one-man wrecking crew.’€

And after Ginobili finished with 28 points and the Spurs laid down a 94-73 beatdown on the Celtics on Sunday night, Rivers gave his good friend and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich a hug and a pat of congratulations on the back. And it wouldn’t be surprising if Rivers said nice little player that No. 20 is.

And the fact of the matter is Ginobili has had little choice. With Tony Parker out indefinitely with a fractured bone in his right foot and Tim Duncan limited to just eight points, it’s been Ginobili’s team of late.

‘€œManu’€™s been playing great you know for the last month,” Popovich said. “He’€™s basically taken over the team. he’€™s been the same Manu we’€™ve had when we won championships, so you know without Tony it’€™s really important for somebody to step up like that and he’€™s done it.”

And watching Ginobili get to the basket and drive with regularity and then be a ball hawk on defense, it was like Celtics fans were watching Rajon Rondo playing for the opposition for one night.

‘€œDefense, defense we were very good, we were very active, we shifted very well off of the guys that we had to shift off,” Ginobili said. “We played good defense on KG and Paul Pierce, nothing was easy for them and that was a big key. Offensively we made some key shots to maintain that lead so it was really always uphill for them, it was a great game.’€

“Some of the plays he makes, he still suprises me,” said another veteran Antonio McDyess of Ginobili. “You can never count him out because he always comes up with big plays at all times. To be new on this team and still see him doing those types of things, its still great to watch.’€

Ginobili was happy to avenge a loss in Texas in December to the Celtics.

‘€œDefinitely,” Ginobili said of the satisfaction of getting payback. “That was the worst we had been probably, last time we played them. Now we are kind of looking better, looking like a team at least. We are playing hard, hustling, communicating, all that. We are still making a lot of mistakes but that’€™s part of the whole deal, but when you look at our faces going to the bench with subs and stuff it is totally different so I am glad to see that.’€

Now it’s the Celtics who must go back to the drawing board.

“That’€™s basketball,” Rivers said. “It happens. I thought we wanted to, but I thought it did break down tonight. I just thought everybody just held onto the ball and was going to do it themselves. You know it’€™s funny, that’€™s all we worked on yesterday. So clearly that didn’€™t work. Playing against the Spurs, you know, it’€™s extra pass. You’€™re not going to beat them off the bounce. You’€™re just not. And it seemed like we were hell-bent in trying to do that.

“And it’€™s like Pop said before the game to me: ‘You’€™re not going to beat the Celtics off the bounce.’ And they didn’€™t. They moved the ball. They kept swinging it, kept passing it, kept making passes. They did what we were supposed to do.’€

Read More: Celtics, Manu Ginobili, NBA, Spurs
Fast Break: Celtics run over by Spurs 03.28.10 at 10:41 pm ET
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The Celtics and the Spurs are alike in so many way and after one half of basketball they were practically mirror images of each other on the stat sheet and on the scoreboard. But in the third quarter, the Spurs completely dominated the action en route to a 94-73 victory Sunday night at the Garden.

It was the Celtics lowest point total of the season and their largest margin of defeat, as well. The Spurs shot 65 percent in the third quarter and outscored the C’s 33-17, turning a one-point halftime lead into a romp. The Celtics scored just 30 points in the second half, or two less than Manu Ginobli who finished with 28 points.

The Celtics had won six out of seven games before this loss. The Hawks also won Sunday and moved back into a tie with the Celtics for third place in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics own the tiebreaker by virtue of winning the Atlantic Division.

There were very few bright spots for the Celtics, although Kevin Garnett recorded his third-straight double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds and Shelden Williams scored 11 points.

Player of the Game: Manu Ginobli controlled every aspect of this game and wound up with 28 points and seven assists.

Turning Point: A close game at halftime turned into a rout as the Spurs outscored the Celtics 33-17 in the third quarter. The forgettable 12 minutes was capped off by an off-the-glass Ginobli 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded.

* Garnett hit the deck hard after he was fouled by Ginobli in the second quarter, but he bounced up after a minute and appeared to be fine.

* Tony Allen got rotation minutes again in place of Marquis Daniels, but Daniels did check in midway through the third quarter after Paul Pierce hurt his left shoulder. Neither player distinguished themselves.

* Garnett’€™s old nemesis, Tim Duncan, missed his first four shots and finished with eight points and nine rebounds.

* A 3-pointer by Rajon Rondo was later ruled to be after the shot clock had expired.

* One game after being held to just one rebound, Rasheed Wallace grabbed six in the first eight minutes. Wallace started in place of Kendrick Perkins who missed his second game with tendinitis in his knee. Doc Rivers said before the game that he anticipates Perkins being ready to play Wednesday against the Thunder.

* Michael Finley played 14 minutes against his former team and was held scoreless. He attempted just two shots.

* Nate Robinson did play after spraining his ankle Friday against the Kings.

* DeJuan Blair was a monster with 11 rebounds in 21 minutes.

Read More: Celtics, Fast Break, Spurs,
Doc on the Spurs: ‘What we want to be’ at 9:36 pm ET
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Doc Rivers remember playing for Gregg Popovich in San Antonio. But not how you might think.

Rivers was the point guard for the Spurs between 1994-96 when Popovich was the general manager.

Then Rivers retired the season before the Popovich fired Bob Hill for a 3-16 start and took over as head coach.

Four NBA titles later, the man with the second-longest head coaching tenure in the NBA is the envy of the league – including Doc Rivers.

“Well, he’s earned it,” Rivers said of Popovich’s tenure. “Pop’s been phenomenal. He’s not only been a coach but he a built a whole program. San Antonio has always been very good. They just could never get over the hump. When I played there, we made it to the Western Finals against Houston and they had been there before.

“Pop came in and not only took them back there, but took them over that and he did in the right way with character players. The organization is first class and no one would have thought 10 years ago that San Antonio would be the organization that most of the league, and not just in basketball, would model their teams after and they do.”

So it’s no surprise that after titles in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007, the Spurs have the kind of resume that others in the league want to copy – even the mightiest of all NBA dynasties with 17 banners already hanging in the rafters.

“Well, we would like to be,” Rivers said of the desire to copy the Spurs’ way. “And that’s what we want to be because they’ve been consistent with it and have done a great job with it. Everyone has their own way but there are a lot of things that I do as a coach and there are a lot of things we do as an organization that we got from them.”

Read More: Celtics, Doc Rivers, Gregg Popovich, NBA
Halftime: Celtics-Spurs at 9:15 pm ET
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At the half the Celtics and Spurs are locked in a tight defensive-minded contest. Both teams are shooting around 40 percent from the floor, but the Spurs have a44-43 lead.

Kevin Garnett scored eight points in the first quarter and has 10 points and six rebounds. Garnett hit the deck hard after he was fouled by Manu Ginobli, but he bounced up after a minute and appears to be OK.  Garnett’s old nemesis, Tim Duncan, missed his first four shots and has only four points.

Ginobli leads all scorers with 16 points.

One game after being held to just one rebound, Rasheed Wallace grabbed six in the first eight minutes. Wallace started in place of Kendrick Perkins who missed his second game with tendinitis in his knee. Doc Rivers said before the game that he anticipates Perkins being ready to play Wednesday against the Thunder.

Michael Finley played seven minutes against his former team and was held scoreless. He attempted just one shot.

Nate Robinson did play after spraining his ankle Friday against the Kings.

The other bright spot for the Celtics was the play of Shelden Williams who had six points, three rebounds and one empahtic two-handed dunk.

Read More: Celtics, Spurs,
Pop on Finley: ‘I don’t blame him’ at 7:55 pm ET
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An hour or so before Michael Finley was set to play his old team, Gregg Popovich reflected on how it all went down. Finley had been dropped from the Spurs rotation and was looking at spending the rest of the season watching instead of playing. So, the veteran made the unusual decision to ask out of one of the best situations in the NBA.

The two talked it over in Popovich’s house where Finley made his request and they decided to part ways.

“I made a decision to play other people and we honored Michael’€™s request to seek another team,” Popovich said. “He asked and he decided to do it. And to do it the right way, to do it before the cut-off date so that he could go with a team that he could play with in the playoffs.”

Finley ultimately signed with the Celtics where he is on way to earning a spot in the playoff rotation. Doc Rivers all but confirmed that he was leaning that way Friday night when he noted Finley’s shooting ability and veteran presence with the second unit.

Since leaving San Antonio, Finley has been nothing but complimentary about the Spurs and his time there. Popovich returned the favor Sunday night.

“Everybody asks about it and I was surprised when he asked that,” Popovich said. “I didn’€™t think that would be something that Michael Finley would ask to do. One has to be realistic and put oneself in [his] shoes. If you are toward the end of your career and somebody’€™s not going to play you and you still want to play more basketball, what’€™s wrong with asking to play elsewhere and trying to play as long as you possibly can?

“That’€™s what he did and I don’€™t blame him for that a lick,” Pop continued. “He’€™s one of the greatest guys I’€™ve ever coached, but he wanted to keep playing. He didn’€™t want to it there on the bench for the rest of the season. Nothing wrong with that. He wanted to play.”

Read More: Gregg Popovich, Michael Finley, Spurs,
Finley just making ‘the most of it’ 03.15.10 at 11:26 pm ET
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When Danny Ainge decided to sign Michael Finley after the 37-year-old had been released by the San Antonio Spurs last week, Monday night was the kind of game the Celtics‘ general manager had in mind.

Finley came off the bench and scored 15 points, matching Paul Pierce and Ray Allen for the team lead in Boston’s 119-93 demolition of Detroit at TD Garden.

Most impressive was how smooth Finley made it look. He missed just once in seven field goal attempts, making the most of his 13-plus minutes off the bench.

‘€œI work out,” Finley said. “I try to work out every day where I have confidence in my game. Whenever my number is called, I just want to be prepared. Tonight was just an example of that. My teammates just got me in good positions to make plays and I just made the most of it.

‘€œI’€™m still trying to find my way in. This team was a good one before I got here. I just want to come in and help them be a better team. If that’€™s possible, I’€™m all for it.’€

On Sunday in Cleveland, the bench struggled mightily, with Glen Davis and Marquis Daniels held scoreless. On Monday, thanks to the early fire shown by Finley, the bench exploded for 61 points, including 13 for Davis and 11 for Daniels.

‘€œIt’€™s always good to win, especially coming off the performance we had in Cleveland,” Finley said. “It always good to get that winning taste back in your mouth and show each other what it takes to win ball games, despite the opponent.’€

Celtics coach Doc Rivers has been pleasantly surprised by the boost Finley has provided to the likes of Rasheed Wallace, Marquis Daniels and Glen Davis.

‘€œYeah, because I didn’€™t know what to expect, honestly,” Rivers said. “You know he hadn’€™t played a lot this year with San Antonio and he wasn’€™t making shots. I just don’€™t believe a guy can forget how to shoot. So we thought if we could get him in here and get him some looks, you know give him a chance to make some shots, they would go in. But, yeah, even his passing, just little things he does on the floor, he’€™s been great.’€

Wallace had a simple message for Finley on Monday – keep it simple and I’ll find you on the court.

“I’€™ve seen it in college when he was at Wisconsin, and you know for the few teams he played with here in the league, I know what type of player Fin is,” ‘Sheed said. “That’€™s one thing I told him when he first came here, when were out there in that second unit, I’€™m going to swing you the ball, just basic basketball. I’€™m going to come over set the pick, you can either come off for the shot, drop it off, or just play basketball and make that next pass.’€

More to the point, Finley, if he continues to play like he did Monday night, makes the Celtics’ bench that much more difficult to match up against come playoff time.

‘€œIt gives us another guy where you have to step up,” Wallace said. “And I say that from an offensive standpoint, you know guys will have to respect Fin’€™s jump shot and driving ability, and that pretty much leaves all the post players open for a one on one.’€

‘€œHe’€™s a veteran,” added Daniels. “He’€™s a shooter. That’€™s something he does, it’s like riding a bike. He knows how to shoot the ball and he does it well.’€

Read More: Celtics, Michael Finley, NBA, Pistons
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