Stars, studs and duds: No moral victories for Celtics

Stars, studs and duds: No moral victories for Celtics

BOSTON – The 109-103 loss the Celtics suffered at home to the San Antonio Spurs is difficult to put in the proper perspective. 
Teams built for long playoff runs have no time, patience or inclination to take moral victories away from losses regardless of the opponent or other circumstances. 
And at the same time, it’s hard to pretend as if the Celtics did not do a lot of good things despite coming up short to the Spurs who have now won eight in a row overall and nine straight on the road. 

 So, where does that put the Celtics’ loss on Friday night?
“We are playing better,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “I don’t know exactly where to put them on the spectrum on where we ultimately need to be but we’re getting better.”
There’s no argument about San Antonio (13-3) being one of the NBA’s elite teams. 
And on many levels, the way San Antonio went about fending off a pesky Boston squad serves as a reminder of just how close to perfect a team has to play in order to knock off a perennial power like the Spurs. 
“We made mistakes the Spurs capitalized on,” said Isaiah Thomas. “You can’t make the mistakes that we made. With a team like that you can’t have that many mistakes.”
He wasn’t speaking just about turnovers, either. 
Boston also had a few miscommunications on the floor, with none being bigger than the one that left Patty Mills wide open for a 3-pointer that he knocked down that made it a 107-101 game with 44.1 seconds to play. 
After the game, Thomas – the man who was thought to be guarding Mills on that play – explained what happened after the loss. 
“I had thought [Marcus] Smart said ‘switch,’” Thomas said. “They capitalized on all our mistakes. That’s why we lost.”
Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Friday’s game.

Kawhi Leonard
The league MVP candidate was once again getting it done on several levels for the Spurs. He finished with a double-double of 25 points and 10 rebounds along with four assists and two blocked shots. 
Isaiah Thomas
It was yet another big game scoring the ball for Thomas who led the Celtics with 24 points on 9-for21 shooting. He also tallied eight assists with just two turnovers.
Patty Mills

He was a key piece in San Antonio’s second unit, which really titled the game’s momentum in favor of the Spurs. He finished with 19 points off the bench on 6-for-8 shooting.
Avery Bradley
Once again he was in double-double range, scoring 19 points on 8-for-15 shooting to go with eight rebounds and three assists.
David Lee
The Celtics had to be wondering, “where did THAT David Lee come from?” The former Celtic had a double-double off the Spurs bench, scoring 15 points to go with 12 rebounds in less than 18 minutes of court time. 
Al Horford
Horford had another game in which he contributed in several categories, but his all-around game did not have the kind of difference-making impact we had seen recently. He still had a nice game, scoring 12 points on 6-for-13 shooting to go with a team-high 10 rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots. 

Amir Johnson
Big Dog wasn’t doing too much biting on Friday. He was the only Celtic to play more than three minutes who did not score, missing all five of his shot attempts. And while logging 17 minutes, Johnson came away with just two rebounds.

WATCH: Boston Celtics at New Orleans Pelicans

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WATCH: Boston Celtics at New Orleans Pelicans

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Pelicans in New Orleans. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 5:30  p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

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Celtics-Pelicans preview: Can C's slow down Anthony Davis?

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Celtics-Pelicans preview: Can C's slow down Anthony Davis?

As the NBA trade deadline drew near, Celtics Nation was hoping tonight’s matchup between Boston and New Orleans would be Anthony Davis returning to where his pro career began.

He’s still with the Pelicans, doing what Davis has done for most of his career – dominate play.

But there’s a new twist now … he’s also winning. 

That’s why the 6-foot-10 Davis is no longer seen as a player that might be on the move anytime soon. 

He’s not just one of the league’s best players, but a bonafide MVP candidate whose stock as an elite player is even greater since New Orleans lost DeMarcus Cousins (ruptured Achilles tendon) for the season on Jan. 26. 

Since Cousins’ season-ending injury, New Orleans (39-30) has a 12-9 record with Davis averaging 31.1 points, 12.8 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 2.3 steals per game in that span. 

Davis is also averaging 7.8 free throws per game which ranks fourth in the NBA, although you wouldn’t know he was among the league leaders in that category based on the postgame rant by his coach Alvin Gentry following New Orleans’ 107-101 loss to Houston on Saturday night. 

“A.D. (Anthony Davis) never gets a call,” a visibly angry Gentry told reporters following the loss. “He never gets a call. We talk about them holding him. We talk about them grabbing him on rolls. We talk about them coming under him on post-ups. He never gets a call; not one. And you know why? Because he doesn’t (bleep) complain about it. He just keeps playing the game.”

Regardless of how often he gets to the line, Davis is still putting up MVP-caliber numbers this season in Cousins’ absence. 

But it’s not like Davis’ stat line this season overall – 28.0 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.4 blocks and 1.5 steals – didn’t stand out for all the right reasons, either.

However, Davis’ shine isn’t quite as bright now with the Pelicans losing four of their last five games which has dropped New Orleans (39-30) down to the eighth and final playoff spot and just 1.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers (37-31).

So, the Celtics come into town facing not only one of the better teams in the West, but a club that is absolutely starving for a win.

While Boston (47-22) certainly wants to come into the Big Easy and get a victory, its impact on the Celtics’ playoff hopes is non-existent. 

Boston has the second-best record in the East and trail Toronto (52-17) by five games with 13 remaining. They face the Raptors two more times this season, but even if they win both of those games and thus the head-to-head series, it likely won’t come into play because of Toronto likely finishing with the best record in the East. 

And behind Boston in the standings is Cleveland (40-29), another injury-riddled team that’s seven games behind the Celtics in the standing and has shown no signs of threatening to gain ground on Boston. 

So regardless of how the Celtics fare, it’s likely they will remain sandwiched between Toronto and Cleveland in terms of playoff seedings are concerned. 

And that might factor into who plays – and who doesn’t – for Boston in these final few games of the regular season. 

Boston’s Daniel Theis suffered a season-ending torn meniscus injury in his left knee, and Marcus Smart’s right thumb injury will keep him out for the rest of the regular season with the earliest he might be back being the latter stages of the first round of the playoffs, or sometime during the second round if the Celtics advance that far. 

Boston must also make sure Kyrie Irving and his sore left knee, are good to go for the playoffs. In addition, the Celtics must work Jaylen Brown back into the fold after he suffered a concussion that has kept him out of Boston’s last three games. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has made a point of not allowing himself or his players to use their injury situation as an excuse for not playing good basketball. 

But he knows good basketball for his injury-riddled roster, involves players elevating their play.

“We’re going to be in the process of really looking at ourselves and redistributing responsibility on our team without guys going outside of what they do best,” Stevens said, adding, “We’re going to have to figure out how to play our best basketball.”