SAN ANTONIO -- A freak meteorological occurrence prompted thoughts of Boston breaking its long losing streak in San Antonio. When the Celtics arrived in town Saturday, the nearby city of Victoria, Texas, was recovering from a storm that dumped 10 inches of snow. It was the first time Victoria enjoyed a white Christmas since 1918. But New England weather in the heart of Texas could not bring Boston a victory and snap a losing streak in San Antonio that dates to Feb. 14, 1990.
Off to the best start in franchise history, the Spurs (22-6) are a defensive force of nature capable of giving most NBA teams trouble. The Celtics (12-14) proved no exception last night, dropping a 107-90 decision at the SBC Center. The margin of victory matched the Spurs' largest lead, though the Celtics briefly took a 1-point advantage early in the third quarter. Boston simply could not sustain its effort, energy, and scoring long enough to gather any meaningful momentum.
Poor pick-and-roll defense did not help, either, as San Antonio point guard Tony Parker wreaked havoc driving to the basket. He finished with a season-high 27 points and a season-high 11 field goals. Tim Duncan recorded a relatively quiet double double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Devin Brown (17 points) provided a major boost off the bench, as it seemed he could not miss from 3-point range (4 for 5).
"It's a matter of taking better shots," said Parker. "At the beginning of the season, I was forcing shots and now I'm taking my time."
The same could be said of the Spurs as a whole. San Antonio shot 53 percent from the floor, which led Celtics coach Doc Rivers to declare that much of today's practice in Dallas would be devoted to defense. Once the Celtics went ahead, they could not keep the Spurs from staging a big run in response.
"We made a big spurt in the third quarter and they responded," said Ricky Davis (a team-high 21 points). "It's a good veteran team over there. The guys have been playing together [for a long time] and they know how to counter runs. So we just had to stay focused. But it kind of unraveled at the end."
Boston closed quickly on San Antonio at the start of the third with a couple of spurts, the second one finishing with a layup from Gary Payton that gave Boston its first and only lead, 57-56, with 7 minutes 22 seconds remaining in the quarter. The Spurs responded with an 11-0 run.
Duncan started the run with a banked 13-footer. Parker followed with a driving finger roll, then Brown hit a 3-pointer. Parker capped the run with a driving layup. San Antonio finished the third with an 81-66 advantage. The Celtics never recovered from the run and never caught up with the speedy Parker as he continued to drive to the rim for easy baskets in the third and fourth.
"We didn't play well," said Rivers. "Sometimes you don't play well. We played in spurts. They had a better effort than us. When you're on the road and you're playing a team like the Spurs, the one area they can't beat you in is the effort area, and I thought they did. We made runs, but that's not good enough. We just have to be more consistent."
At some point, Rivers must have second-guessed his decision to give Boston a three-day Christmas break, though neither the coach nor the players would use the time off as an excuse. After all, consistency has been a seasonlong issue for the Celtics.
San Antonio led, 50-43, at halftime, though the home team dominated the action more than the score indicated as Boston appeared out of synch and out of breath. The Spurs led by as many as 15 points (48-33) late in the second. But San Antonio seemed to tire as Boston closed the second with a 10-2 run capped by a 3-pointer from Davis.
San Antonio made its first big statement midway through the first. After Mark Blount hit an 11-foot fadeaway to tie the game at 11, the Spurs staged a 10-0 run. That spurt was probably a more accurate indicator of what was to come than snow a little way south of the city.
"We got that Christmas out of us and now we go back to work," said Payton (10 points, 5 assists in 26 minutes). "Hopefully, we can get it back together. We're not playing with attitude and [the Spurs] were getting to the basket easy. We're not contesting shots. We can't stop a team that penetrates like they did, getting layup after layup after layup. We have to play a little better than that."
True. But Payton should know part of the pattern has been progress in fits and starts. Until that changes, the Celtics will find themselves in frustrating games like last night's.