WALTHAM, Mass. -- The Celtics are 6-5 through 11 games and still very much trying to figure themselves out, which is why Wednesday night's game with the San Antonio Spurs at TD Garden might be their most difficult challenge of the season.
The Spurs, at least on a chemistry and cohesiveness level, could be considered polar opposites of the Celtics right now. They're virtually the exact same team that they were last season, with rookie Nando De Colo serving as the lone new face. As a result, they already know what they want to do and who's going to do it, and their 8-3 record reflects that.
Compare that to Boston, which boasts nine new bodies, including integral role players such as Jason Terry and Courtney Lee. With the Celtics still battling inconsistency, a win Wednesday won't come easy against a team capable of playing with more cohesiveness than perhaps any other in the league.
"[The Spurs have] been together for a while," coach Doc Rivers said after Tuesday's practice. "You think of their team from last year. How many new additions do they have? It's basically the same team, and that makes them pretty good. They'll add one guy here and there, but for the most part, they came back with, I think, 10 guys and the same group of guys. We had that stretch when we did that, and it makes you really good because you can build from last year. You don't have to start over."
Rivers explained that the Spurs' insistence on their own system has helped keep them in contention for far longer than some thought possible. Though the likes of future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are growing older, San Antonio has always surrounded them with the right pieces. It's not about finding the best player; it's about finding the best player for their team. When you couple that with the consistent play of Duncan, Ginobili and Tony Parker, it isn't difficult to see why San Antonio has remained formidable.
"The biggest thing is they haven't changed much," Rivers said. "They've changed style in some ways, but Ginobili, Parker and Duncan are still there. That's where it's different than everywhere, including us. We have changed. And that's what makes them so consistent. When you start out with those three guys, and then you keep those three guys, and every year when you come into camp, the teaching of how to play together, it's there. It's there in the way they play, so your work's done."
Boston will be tested on both sides of the ball. In addition to being one of the league's better defensive teams year in and year out, the Spurs are one of the most efficient offensive teams, capable of opening things up in transition with athletic guards such as Gary Neal, Danny Green and, obviously, Parker, and slowing things down and executing in the halfcourt. It's their speed and ball movement, though, that rest at the top of Rivers' list of concerns.
"Their speed is one. The way Parker and Ginobili and Neal and Green, they really push the pace," Rivers said. "And then they pass the ball. The ball movement -- it's amazing, as much as Parker has the ball in his hands, the ball moves as much as well. So, they get both. They get Parker with the ball, but they also get tons of ball movement."
As inconsistent as the Celtics have been this season, Wednesday's game could bring out the type of performance they've been searching for. They know their level of play has bobbed up and down at an unacceptable rate and they're still lacking that elusive harmony between their starters and reserves, but if they want to defeat a team as polished as the Spurs, they might not have a choice but to finally fire on all cylinders.
"It's going to be a great challenge because the chemistry they have, we're still trying to develop that and get to that level," Jared Sullinger said. "So it's going to be a good measurement of how well we play together."
"Clearly, it's fun playing teams like this," Rivers said. "It really is. I hope every night's a litmus test. We've got to get better. We're 6-5 and you are what your record says you are. So we want to just get better."