Spurs-Celtics: The Big Three That Changed the Game

Robert KleemanSenior Analyst IDecember 4, 2009

SAN ANTONIO - JANUARY 31:  Matt Bonner #15 of the San Antonio Spurs during play against the New Orleans Hornets on January 31, 2009 at AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

So much for younger and fresher legs, athleticism, better rebounding, and more points in the paint.

The San Antonio Spurs turned the ball over 19 times, missed 10 free throws, and clanged two of 16 three-point attempts. It cost them in a 90-83 home loss to the Boston Celtics.

The Utah Jazz won in similar fashion at the AT&T Center a few weeks ago.

That, as Tim Duncan would say, will not get it done.

The numbers that matter most don't lie.

The Spurs outscored the Celtics in the paint 52-36, outrebounded them 55-32, managed the same number of steals, lost the assist battle by only two, and blocked five shots to Boston's eight.

Paul Pierce missed seven of nine shots, Ray Allen missed nine of 15, and Rasheed Wallace was four of nine from the field.

A "big three" changed the complexion of this big contest, and it wasn't either of the star trios many still think could meet in the NBA Finals.

Sometimes, a team seen as too old to compete for a title needs to take care of the ball, not lead the league in alley-oops. Athleticism was never the problem in this caustic defeat.

The "big three," then, was the one no player in Spurs white could hit. Roger Mason missed a wide open triple off a perfect play out of a timeout from Gregg Popovich. Matt Bonner and Richard Jefferson missed all of their seven combined tries.

It was the miscue the guards and Duncan could not avoid. Two giveaways late in the fourth quarter—a Rajon Rondo strip of Tony Parker on the fast break and Michael Finley stepping out of bounds before hitting a three that would have cut the Celtics lead to one—sealed the Spurs' fate.

It was the freebie that appeared to cost more than any Spur was willing to play. Duncan missed both of his foul shots, Jefferson missed his lone try, and Parker rimmed on three-of-four. Even Manu Ginobili, reliable as they come from the stripe, missed one.

In such a slugfest, free points can make the difference. The Spurs sat in a proverbial electric chair at home and managed to pull the lever themselves.

This is what you call suicide. With perhaps 70 questions awaiting a wanna-be champion on the other end, this cause was not worth such a painful death.

All contenders rely on the the three-ball to change games. It just makes sense. It's easier to comeback from a deficit or to expand a lead with shots that count for three instead of two.

When the Spurs needed Bonner, Mason, Finley and the other shooters to deliver, none could.

Dejuan Blair scored a career-high 18 points to go along with 11 rebounds and two blocks.

Bonner snagged nine boards.

Duncan hauled down 15 rebounds.

Jefferson's 3-for-13 offensive struggle was offset by his rendering the Celtics' best player, Pierce, ineffective.

Boston hoisted two more treys than San Antonio, a sign of how important the jumpshot was for both teams.

Translation: The Spurs should have won.

The Celtics missed 14 of 18 trey bombs, but one of the few makes was timely. At the end of the third quarter, with the Spurs in reach, Rasheed Wallace nailed an uncontested trey.

The Celtics also drilled more contest jumpers when it counted.

Remember that big advantage on the boards and in the paint? Boston wasn't the more physical team or the one more equipped to win.

This matchup is a wash on paper, and the Spurs should be ready to return the favor in Boston when the teams meet again this spring.

They won, after all, in the Celtics' house last season.

The difference then was the same one that changed Thursday's game. The Celtics had outrebounded the Spurs, scored 20 more points in the paint, and looked poised to defend home court.

San Antonio needed a "big three."

Mason obliged with a dagger trey, Ginobili stole a critical inbounds pass from Allen, and the team made its free throws in crunch time.

The Spurs could have used that trio on a chilly Thursday night in December. They better find it before February.