Less than a week ago, after the Celtics dropped game one of their first round series to the Bulls, a lot of people were throwing dirt on the Celtics' grave. They were not even going to get out of the first round. They were one-and-done.
The Spurs lost the first game of their series to the Mavericks, but there was not that kind of panic. The Spurs have been called too old and left for dead so many times only to bounce back that nobody wants to call it again.
But during game three, the Celtics looked, for the first time in a while, like the team that is the defending NBA Champions. And the Spurs looked old and unable to respond. And all that matters because the team that wins game three of a seven game series tied after the first two wins the series better than 75% of the time.
Boston played its most complete game in a month in Chicago. The trademark Celtics defense was back, with quick rotations and smart play locking down the paint. They weren’t forcing turnovers, but they weren’t letting the Bulls have the shots from where they wanted on the floor — and Boston contested everything.
But as impressive as their defense was, it was the Celtics offense was back as well. The Celtics blew the game open in the second quarter with a 25-10 run that had them playing incredibly efficient offense. Led by Paul Pierce, who had been taking a beating in Boston for his lackluster play in the first two games of the series.
Basically, the Celtics showed heart. The heart that won them a title last year. The heart that does not reside in Kevin Garnett alone.
Tim Duncan has heart, but his body is betraying him. He was 2 of 9 from the floor and a -29 on the night, looking a step slow. Shut down by a Mavericks team never known as a defensive powerhouse. But he wasn’t alone. Tony Parker was 5 of 14. Drew Gooden was 2 of 12, George Hill 2 of 10.
The problem for the Spurs is that their supporting cast of guys who hit the shots when Duncan and Parker are struggling got old and faded away. Robert Horry and Sean Elliott are gone. Michael Finley and Brent Barry and Bruce Bowen are far from consistent and hard to count on anymore. So now guys like Gooden and rookie Hill are taking up a lot of those shots (ones that normally would belong to Manu Ginobili). Gooden is no Horry.
Unless the still-young Tony Parker goes off, the Spurs have struggled in this series with a Dallas team feared by nobody.
Maybe the return of Ginobili next season will prove the fountain of youth for the Spurs and Duncan. Or maybe it is too late and we should be shoveling dirt on them. This series it is looking more like the later.
Duncan and Parker will bounce back from a loss — they will take the loss as a personal embarrassment. But can anyone else on that team follow their lead? Or have the Spurs just finally, actually lost it?