The Celtics shot better than 60 percent earlier this season and emerged with a lopsided 31-point thrashing of the Washington Wizards in mid-November, producing one of only two Gino moments this season, Boston's favorite "American Bandstand" dancer gyrating on the JumboTron during the final minutes of an easy triumph.
On Wednesday night, the Celtics shot 61.3 percent, and the in-house staff not only didn't consider Gino, Boston almost lost the game.
It took a defensive stand on the final play, Paul Pierce blocking Manu Ginobli's 22-foot attempt in the final second, to secure a gravelly two-point triumph against an opponent with the best record in basketball.
"Two great defensive teams tonight, huh?" Celtics coach Doc Rivers shrugged. "One scores 103, the other one scores 105. The fact that we shot 61 percent and won by two is a scary number, when you think about it. That tells you how good [the Spurs] are, how well they’re coached, and all of that. It took a 61-percent effort from us tonight to win a basketball game at home. That tells you how good that team is.”
It also shows how good Boston's offense can be, the team shooting a scorching 70.6 percent in the third quarter (12-of-17) and 66.7 percent for the second half (24-of-36).
"You knew it was going to be a nip-and-tuck game pretty much all night," Celtics captain Paul Pierce said. "You look up and it was hard to pull away from them. You could tell when, down the stretch, we put a nice little defensive run on them and they come right back. You've got two heavyweights battling and it was fun for me to be part of, I’m just glad that we won."
It probably shouldn't have been so close. The Celtics turned the ball over 18 times, leading to a staggering 31 points, and allowed nine trifectas by the visitors. Even still, it took a series of miscues and two missed free throws by Ray Allen to make it a game again at the end.
'We had so many things go wrong in a row, I just thought [Allen's missed free throws were] part of that process, honestly," said Rivers. "It’s great to get the win. We did it in an unconventional way."
--WITH NO RULES AGAINST CARDS, THEY'RE GAMBLING ON GOOD BEHAVIOR--
As the Memphis Grizzlies imposed a ban on in-flight gambling following an in-air scuffle between former Celtics guard Tony Allen and O.J. Mayo earlier this week, Rivers dismissed any such consideration for his team.
"No, I tell them to play cards, enjoy it," said Rivers. "They're grown men. At some point, if they're going to get into a fight over a card game, then that's silly and and then we'd have do something about it. But they're grown men. If you cancel the card game on the plane and they really want to play bad enough, they'll just go play in the [hotel] rooms. I'm not going to babysit adults. They're grown men. You just hope they act the right way. It doesn't have to be NBA players, that's just human beings."
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich took a less serious approaching, joking, "We don't allow any gambling during practice."
Asked about games, he quipped, "Games, [only] if we're ahead by 15 or more, usually."
--LOOSE BALLS: CELTICS GO SMALL; PIERCE'S TECHNICAL--
* In part out of necessity, in part due to the fact that Matt Bonner was eating up his defense, Rivers made the decision to go with a small lineup at halftime, leaning on three-guard units as Boston emerged in the second half.
"At halftime, I decided to go small, which I thought helped us," said Rivers. "I thought, obviously, Ray [Allen] and Paul and [Rajon] Rondo were phenomenal. But I thought Jermaine O’Neal, honestly, was just absolutely huge for us. We left him out there, he defended Tim [Duncan] one-on-one for the most part and he got blocks, he gave us defensive energy. He was absolutely sensational."
So why go small?
“Because Bonner was killing us," said Rivers. "And I thought the way they were guarding Paul in the first half, with the overplays and using the other big, I thought if we put another small on the floor, especially a shooting small like Nate [Robinson], then they could no longer overplay Paul. And then, defensively, we could match up with Bonner and take his shots away. So that’s why we did it."
Bonner, 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting over 18 first-half minutes, finished with no points and missed the only shot he took over 12 second-half minutes.
* Pierce picked up his team-leading fifth technical foul of the season with 4:55 to play for barking at the officials after a no-call when he drew contact while getting his defender off his feet with an upfake. It helped the Spurs temporarily surge ahead, but Pierce atoned with his saving block in the closing seconds.
* Glen Davis finished a point shy of his regular-season career high, scoring 23 points on 10-of-18 shooting over 33 minutes. His reaction? "They were playing off me and I was shocked," said Davis. "I was like, 'Oh my God, they are just going to let me shoot.' So I just kept shooting and got into a rhythm." To be fair, with three future Hall of Famers on the court (and maybe a fourth in Rondo), someone has to be open. Davis made the Spurs pay with one of his finer efforts in place of Kevin Garnett.