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Spurs 105, Celtics 99

Spurs of moment

Celtics are a little lacking at end of another close one

By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / February 9, 2009
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Paul Pierce believes the difference between winning and losing against elite teams is "the little things." Such was the case during the last two home games as the little things caught up to the Celtics against the Lakers Thursday and yesterday against the Spurs.

Despite taking a 3-point lead into the final minute, the Celtics ended up losing, 105-99, to San Antonio at TD Banknorth Garden. Following 12 straight wins, defending champion Boston (42-11) has dropped two straight home games against the teams that reached last season's Western Conference finals. All four of the Celtics' home losses this season have come against the West.

"When you play the top teams in the league, it comes down to the little things," said Pierce, who had 19 points and eight rebounds. "I just thought the last couple of games at home it was 1- or 2-point games. Defensive transition late in the game, covering for one another [defensively], one possession [situations], it's like the playoffs . . .

"One play can kill you. Every possession counts, and we've got to understand that when we play against the top-tier teams like the Spurs and the Lakers."

The little things really began affecting the Celtics after the game was tied at 87 in the fourth quarter.

Spurs forward Tim Duncan (23 points, 13 rebounds) had a 3-point play off an offensive rebound with 3:52 left that pushed Boston behind, 90-87.

"The big play was Tim Duncan's big offensive rebound and a foul for [a 3-point play]," said Celtics guard Rajon Rondo, who had 6 points on 3-of-11 shooting, 16 assists, and 1 turnover in 38 minutes.

Still, the Celtics were able to respond with a 6-0 run capped by a pair of Kevin Garnett jumpers to take a 93-90 lead with 1:36 remaining.

Following a Garnett missed jumper, Matt Bonner nailed a jumper to trim San Antonio's deficit to 93-92 with 45.1 seconds remaining. Garnett missed another jumper with 28 seconds left on the following possession that was rebounded by San Antonio.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich elected not to call a timeout. After Duncan set a solid screen on Ray Allen, Spurs guard Roger Mason Jr., nailed a wide-open 3-pointer with 20.4 seconds left to push San Antonio ahead, 95-93.

"I was more concerned really about giving up the 3-point shot," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "That was more troubling to me than anything."

Popovich credited the Celtics as the reason he didn't call time.

"That's why we didn't call a timeout at the end because they are such a great defensive team," he said. "To have them set their halfcourt defense is probably not the best thing for an offense. We thought if we had everybody in movement we might have a better chance to make a shot and Roger did it."

The Celtics called timeout after Mason's trey and tried to inbound in front of San Antonio's bench. Allen said he had complained to referee Ron Garretson before the play about Manu Ginobili potentially reaching over the in line. With Pierce double-teamed, Allen appeared to lose the ball instead of making a strong pass to Pierce and Ginobili snatched it.

Allen claimed Ginobili illegally reached over on the play. Ginobili begged to differ. Rivers also mentioned that the Celtics had a timeout to use as well and he didn't think Ginobili reached over.

"When Paul came up, [Ginobili] kind of came close," said Allen (18 points). "I probably should have pump-faked. I was so anxious to give Paul the ball and I turned it over."

The Celtics were outscored, 13-6, during the final 45.1 seconds. In fact, Boston was scoreless during that stretch until the final 9.8 seconds when Eddie House and Kevin Garnett nailed desperation treys.

"We just didn't execute well down the stretch," Rondo said. "It seemed like the last minute of the game we got away from moving the ball."

Popovich was ecstatic with the victory.

"It was a beautiful win for us against the NBA champion, and on the road makes it sweeter, so obviously we are thrilled with it," he said.

The game had 12 lead changes and 11 ties. The Spurs led, 60-52, at halftime after scoring 38 points in the second quarter. Boston outscored the visitors, 24-14, in the third quarter to take a 76-74 lead. But San Antonio was hottest when it meant the most, dominating the fourth quarter, 31-23.

"Really good win for us," Duncan said. "It was great the way we reacted to their run in the third quarter, kind of kept our composure and kind of fought back into it and made it a game the whole way through, and in that respect it was great for us."

After a 19-game winning streak ended Christmas Day against the Lakers, the Celtics lost seven of nine through Jan. 9. Despite the recent home skid, Boston is confident that a losing streak isn't on the horizon.

"I don't think as a team we've hit a panic button or nothing like that, but it just shows that we definitely have some room for improvement," said Garnett, who had 26 points and 12 rebounds.

Rivers wasn't completely upset.

"We had the right mind-set," said the coach. "We wanted to play [today]. We just didn't play well."

Marc J. Spears can be reached at mspears@globe.com

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