- Peter May, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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We knew this stretch of games was going to be a test. There were games against three of the top four teams in the Western Conference over a stretch of four days. There was the annual visit from the San Antonio Spurs, at exactly the wrong time of the season for the Boston Celtics.
Boston has played five good teams in the past 10 days. They've won three of those games (and a fourth against a not-so-good team, the Sacramento Kings.) They still have three testers remaining in the next week, capped by an Easter Sunday matinee against the dreaded Cleveland Cavaliers.
They Celtics have played well at times in this stretch, opening with wins at Houston and Dallas, 24 hours apart, which may have raised expectations. But they stumbled in Utah -- not the easiest place to play -- and then they got absolutely hammered on Sunday night, at home, losing 94-73 to the vaunted Spurs. It was their third 20-plus-point loss at home in a little more than a month.
Hold off the bridge watches. The Celtics are not panicking, nor should they. Coach Doc Rivers is not throwing the baby out with the bath water, nor should he. Two things happened that led to Sunday's atrocity: The Celtics played poorly and the Spurs played one of their better games of the season, which is saying something. If you haven't noticed, the Spurs are starting to ramp it up again, their annual spring surge coming just a little later than usual.
Even with Tony Parker out, the Spurs are getting their act together. They were coming off a win in Cleveland on Friday night, and the victory over the Celtics was their 11th in their last 15 games. They are 8-4 since Parker went down with a broken bone in his right hand. This is a good team that the Celtics had the misfortune of playing at the wrong time. Forget the Spurs' record (which, at 44-28, isn't that bad anyway.) San Antonio is just 3½ games out of second place in the Western Conference.
"We're playing our best basketball of the season," coach Gregg Popovich said. And that was before his team went out and vaporized the Celtics, holding them to a season low in points, outscoring them 50-30 in a second-half clinic.
So take away what you will from this one. Almost to a man, the Celtics were horrible. They scored 10 points in the first three minutes -- and 63 in the last 45. Their defense broke down repeatedly, usually as a result of something Manu Ginobili did. He was sensational. DeJuan Blair outrebounded the entire Boston team in the fourth quarter (9-7). "A one-man wrecking crew," Rivers called the burly Pitt rookie.
The Spurs didn't even need Tim Duncan to be dominant. He was happy to be a facilitator, adding insult to injury. He played a shade more than 26 minutes and watched the last 14-plus minutes from the bench.
"It was one of those nights," Rivers said. "We played awful. They wanted to play."
But aside from getting beaten by a hot team, this also was the Celtics' 13th loss at home this season. They now have the same home record as the Toronto Raptors. It has been clear for a while that this team, for whatever reason, has been unlike the last two Celtics' teams, which established themselves as beasts at home while picking up wins on the road along the way. We are no longer stunned when they lose at home, which is not exactly a good sign. But it's been the case all season.
So, in that respect, a loss to a very good San Antonio team at home should not be cause for great concern. A sloppy, uninspiring loss to a very good San Antonio team will, and should, cause the denizens of Celtics Nation to grumble and be justifiably cranky. Just what are we to expect from these guys, anyway?
"The way they played is usually the way we play," Paul Pierce said. "But I don't feel like it's a step back. It's just one of those games that you have to get out of your system. You have nights like that. I expect us to play a lot better basketball from here on out."
They'd better. We'll give them a pass on Sunday night, as underwhelming as it was. They might well have played a terrific game and still lost. The Spurs are the Spurs.
Now, if they get hammered Wednesday night by the Thunder
Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.
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