Celtics run winning streak to six
SAN ANTONIO - The Celtics should not be expected to win many games against elite competition when Paul Pierce fails to produce double-figure scoring and they are outrebounded, 55-32.
But the Celtics took a 90-83 victory over the San Antonio Spurs last night, setting the pace early in winning their sixth straight.
The Celtics had a 5-4 lead on a Pierce 3-pointer 2:34 into the contest and never relinquished their advantage. But Pierce would convert only once more from the field in failing to score in double figures for the second successive game.
And it all added up to positives for the Celtics (15-4), who conclude a four-game road trip in Oklahoma City tonight, proof they do not have to be at their best to succeed.
“The offense isn’t really focused on me,’’ said Pierce (8 points). “I try to do the little things when the offense isn’t going. I try to defend and help on rebounds, the other things. As you can see, not one of my better offensive nights and we still win. That’s the sign of a team that’s focused on defense, and we can win those type of games. Maybe a few years back, I had a game like this we get blown out.’’
The Celtics led by as many as 15 points in the third quarter. The Spurs (9-7), who had a five-game winning streak snapped, struggled to find combinations to match the Celtics, two of their starters failing to score, and Richard Jefferson held to 6 points.
The Spurs rallied behind reserve forward DeJuan Blair (18 points, 11 rebounds), pulling within 4 points in the late going. But some persistent Celtic defending and a key Rajon Rondo jumper closed out the game.
Blair’s third-chance follow pulled the Spurs within 85-81 with 2:47 remaining, capping a possession that included a timeout and two missed free throws by Tim Duncan. Rondo then connected with a pullup jumper for a 6-point edge with two minutes to go, and the Celtics held off a 35-second Spurs possession, forcing a Duncan miss.
Jefferson made it 87-83 with 57.6 seconds left. And, after a Kevin Garnett miss, Rondo stripped Tony Parker on the Spurs’ final meaningful possession. Pierce (16.3 seconds) then hit a free throw and Eddie House (11.6) added two more foul shots.
“I was trying to get back and keep him in front of me,’’ Rondo said. “I knew they had numbers and they were going to attack. It’s not just coming from me, it’s coming from everybody - whether it’s a rebound we need down the stretch, or a stop on the defensive end, we’re getting it from all the guys on the floor.’’
The Celtics started the final quarter with a Pierce-Brian Scalabrine-Rasheed Wallace frontcourt, and leading, 81-69, on a Marquis Daniels jumper with 9:10 remaining. But the Spurs’ quickness paid off during a 6-point run, Blair cutting the deficit to 81-75 with 7:03 remaining, the Celtics calling a timeout, then going to the starters with 6:47 on the clock.
“They missed some open shots, and early on we made some tough shots,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought we were attacking off the dribble, getting the ball up the floor, and scoring before they could set their defense. That was big, because of the cushion it allowed us.’’
The Spurs’ shooting was off in the opening half, partly because of the Celtics’ defending. But the Spurs could not find the range on either open 3-pointers (they were 1 for 8 in the opening half) or at the foul line (they were 2 for 9 in the first half, 7 for 17 for the game).
And the Celtics found combinations, with Garnett (20 points) and Wallace (13 points in 16 minutes) effective on the perimeter and the post.
“If Paul doesn’t score double figures I got to think it’s my fault, always,’’ Rivers said. “He didn’t touch the ball in rhythm, he touched it sporadically. And that’s what I meant by I thought we got away from our offense, a lot at times. And Paul has to touch the ball - doesn’t mean he has to shoot it, but he has to touch it, because if you don’t touch it for a long period of time, when it is time for you to score it’s very difficult to score.’’