When the teams last met in April, the Boston Celtics completed the third-largest comeback in NBA history over the San Antonio Spurs, turning a 32-point deficit into a 143-140 overtime win at home.
Nearly seven months later, the Celtics fell behind by 24 points against a 4-13 Spurs team in the first half. Boston made things interesting -- the team actually took a 7-point lead -- before its disastrous opening caught up with it late in a 96-88 loss at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, dropping the team back to .500 at 10-10.
Jayson Tatum, who matched a franchise record in Boston's last matchup with the Spurs with 60 points, led the Celtics with 24 points on 9 of 13 shooting with 12 rebounds on Friday.
Here are some other takeaways from yet another Boston performance that's difficult to assess:
Sluggish starts nothing new
Even during Boston's recent 3-1 homestand -- which came to a crashing halt against the Brooklyn Nets on Thanksgiving Eve, 123-104 -- not all was as well as it seemed.
The Celtics fell behind the Los Angeles Lakers by 14 points before going on to win by 22 and even trailed by six against the one-win Houston Rockets in the first quarter before snapping out of the funk. Boston fell behind by a point against the Oklahoma City Thunder on the homestand, too.
The troubles traveled to Texas, where Boston started off 5 of 29 from the floor and finished the first half 14 of 50.
The combined record of the Lakers, Rockets, Thunder and Spurs: 23-52.
A tale of two Tatums
Tatum has flipped a switch before, but tonight's turnaround was ridiculous.
Coming off a clunker against the Nets (15 points, 4 for 16 shooting), Tatum came out in the first half and shot 1 for 9 with 3 points and a minus-19 rating.
Pretty much as uninspiring as it gets, right?
But things changed on a dime for Tatum, this finish over Dejounte Murray a catalyst:
Tatum began making shots inside and out, following his missed shots and putting back layups, and controlling the glass to the point he wound up with his seventh double-double of the season.
It wound up going for naught, of course, but it would have been an even great cause for concern if Tatum's struggles continued into the second half.
Bench roles up for grabs
Enes Kanter had quite the stat line for the Celtics off the pine Friday: 18 minutes, 1 for 5 shooting, 3 points...but eight rebounds and a team-best plus-28 rating.
Grant Williams was a plus-18 off the bench -- the only other Boston player in the positives -- and made 3 of 4 shots for 7 points, but grabbed five rebounds and blocked three shots. His only made 3-pointer was a big one, too:
On a night when Al Horford struggled (2 for 8, 4 points, team-worst minus-29), the play of Kanter and Williams enabled the Celtics to make their move in the second half. While Williams has seen consistent playing time throughout the season, Kanter's minutes have fluctuated. Robert Williams III remains a few days out from returning to the lineup, so there will be more chances ahead for bigs off the bench to play longer minutes with a thin frontcourt rotation.
The Celtics head to Canada on Sunday to play the Toronto Raptors at 6 p.m. before returning home to face the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday. After that, they'll embark on a five-game west coast road trip.