What we saw: Celtics-Spurs preview review

What we saw: Celtics-Spurs preview review
April 5, 2012, 4:31 am
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BOSTON Paul Pierce got the shot that he wanted. Whether it was the best shot he could have taken is debatable.
At this point, it's a moot point as the Celtics saw their season-best winning streak end at five games following an 87-86 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
In a game in which the Celtics had plenty of chances to make plays, their fate once again rested in the hands of Pierce whose step-back jumper with no time remaining hit the back of the rim and bounced out.
C's coach Doc Rivers would have liked Pierce to attack off the dribble earlier in the shot clock so that if he missed, they would have a chance at a tip-in for the win.
But with a few ticks on the game clock, Pierce was more concerned with getting off a shot that he's comfortable with.
A step-back jumper from the elbow?
That's a shot that Pierce loves to take -- and make. And with Tim Duncan switching out defensively to guard him, Pierce felt with so little time to play, that was the best shot he could get off in that situation.
"This type of stuff is not really scripted; you don't have an idea of what's going to happen in those type of situations," said Pierce, who had 15 points. "You get in those pressure situations and sometimes they work and sometimes they don't; but the thing is I'm not going to second-guess my decision. I thought I got a great shot, created some space right there at the free throw line. It's just some days they fall, some days they don't."
Pierce's last-second miss was just one of the many factors that contributed to the C's loss. We'll review keys to the game outlined earlier, and see how they actually played out.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Boston's best shot at beating the Spurs is to do what they did against Miami -- make sure it's not a game that comes down to the wire. This season, there are few teams that are better at putting away close games in the final couple minutes of play. In games in which San Antonio is ahead or behind within the last two minutes of play, they are 16-9. Only the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers have a higher winning percentage in such games.
WHAT WE SAW: The Celtics put up a valiant effort in the game's closing minutes, and had their chance to steal a win when Paul Pierce missed a jumper at the buzzer.
"The game came down to big plays, really," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "Think about it: they had two seconds, side out-of-bounds, and guy was falling out of bounds gives it to another guy, the guy makes a three. Get along offensive rebound, (Gary) Neal makes a three. They got two loose balls down the stretch. And we missed some -- we had some great looks."

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Rajon Rondo vs. Tony Parker: In the Big Three era, Rondo has been fairly consistent with strong play against the Spurs. In the six games against them since 2008-2009, Rondo has averaged 14 assists with at least 12 in each game. In addition, he's averaged 12.3 points and 5.7 rebounds. Parker has emerged as the best scorer for San Antonio this season, averaging a team-high 19.3 points per game this season. And like Rondo, he relies on having jet-like quickness to get to the basket. But Parker is more of a finisher, while Rondo's dribble-penetration is usually to set up a teammate to score.
WHAT WE SAW: Rondo once again came out in attack mode, and the results were indeed impressive. He had 17 points on 8-for-15 shooting along with 11 assists and four steals. Parker's impact wasn't nearly as great, tallying 10 points on 5-for-14 shooting with only two assists and one rebound.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Brandon Bass is looking more and more like an X-factor for the Celtics. When he's on top of his game both as a scorer and a rebounder, the Celtics are an extremely tough team to beat. Bass has had five double-doubles scoring and rebounding this season. In those games, the C's are 4-1 with the lone loss coming in the season-opening loss at New York on Christmas Day.WHAT WE SAW: Bass didn't have a bad game, but he's played better -- a lot better. To beat the Spurs, they needed him to deliver both as a scorer and a rebounder. He had nine points on 3-for-6 shooting, but was just 3-for-6 from the free throw line. And his seven rebounds were important for the Celtics, again, they needed him to be a difference-maker tonight instead of a guy who had a good, but not-great performance.

STAT TO TRACK: There are a number of statistics that show how good Boston's defense has been this year, one of which is how they are giving up a league-low 36 made field goals per game. Keeping the Spurs at or below that total will not be easy, especially when you realize that they average a league-best 39 made field goals per game which is a big reason why they rank third in the NBA, in points scored (101.9) per game.
WHAT WE SAW: The Celtics didn't look particularly good defensively in the first half, but in the second? Completely different team.
"It was unbelievable," said Rivers, who held the Spurs to just nine points in the third quarter which is about 16 below their season average in the third quarter of games.