BOSTON – After losing six of their last seven games, the Boston Celtics were desperately searching for a spark during Sunday’s matchup against the San Antonio Spurs. Head coach Brad Stevens, hoping to slow down the defending NBA champions, elected to start third-year big man Tyler Zeller for the first time all season in place of a struggling Kelly Olynyk.
Stevens will have to keep searching for a new plan after today’s contest, as the Spurs pulled away late for a easy 111-89 win over the Celtics at the TD Garden. It was the sixth straight home loss for the Celtics, capping a brutal slate of November opponents.
For the first half, Stevens’ move looked to be paying dividends. Zeller held his own while defending Tim Duncan in the post, and Boston’s defense limited the Spurs to a paltry 39.5 percent shooting. The Celtics also handily won the turnover battle (10-3) and headed into intermission with a 49-45 lead after trailing by as many as nine points in the first quarter.
As has been the trend in recent weeks, the Celtics failed to sustain a strong defensive effort in the second half. The Spurs decreased their turnovers and began routinely breaking down the Celtics’ defense with beautiful ball movement that produced pretty of open 3-point looks and shots at the rim.
The Celtics kept pace with San Antonio for much of the third quarter, but the Spurs pulled away with a 19-3 run midway through the fourth quarter and turned a three-point lead into a blowout. Overall, San Antonio outscored Boston by a staggering 66-40 margin in the second half.
Danny Green led the balanced effort for the visitors with 18 points, and five Spurs finished in double figures. Jeff Green had team-high 16 points for the Celtics, while Evan Turner added 12 points off the bench.
Despite the expected defeat, the most alarming part of this loss was the continued struggles of Kelly Olynyk on both ends of the floor. Olynyk finished with just three points in 25 minutes off the bench, and he has now posted a mere 34 total points in his last six games, a sharp drop-off from his strong production at the start of the year.
Rajon Rondo’s free throw woes continued as well, with the point guard missing his only two attempts of the afternoon, dropping his season average to an ugly 30 percent (9-of-30) at the charity stripe.
Now that the November gauntlet is over, the Celtics will need to make up some serious ground against a softer set of opponents to recover from a 4-10 record. Despite their ugly start to the season, the Celtics are still only two games out of a playoff spot in the putrid Eastern Conference, but they need to turn things around quickly to remain a relevant threat to make the postseason.