SAN ANTONIO (AP) Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens knew his young team would have a tough time contending with the ball movement and championship experience of the San Antonio Spurs.
But when the 38-year-old coach saw a player 6 months older than him hit the floor to recover a loose ball, he was reminded that San Antonio’s success goes beyond corporate knowledge.
Tim Duncan set the tone early, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard cleaned up late and the Spurs never trailed Friday night in holding off the Celtics 101-89 after getting a late scare.
The late struggles were a problem, but Duncan made sure the Spurs got off to a good start in their first home game since an embarrassing loss to the New York Knicks on Tuesday.
The 18-year veteran hit the floor twice in the first 3 minutes, collecting two steals with his hustle. The second steal led to his running, two-handed dunk off a feed from Tiago Splitter that gave San Antonio a 10-2 lead and led to Boston’s first timeout.
”There are times where you wish you weren’t on the bench for the other team because you appreciate what just happened from a basketball purist’s standpoint,” Stevens said. ”A 38-year-old that is maybe the best power forward to ever play the game dove on the ball in the first 3 minutes of the game. Great tone for his team.”
Duncan finished with 10 points in 20 minutes.
Leonard scored 22 points, Parker had 15 points and seven assists and Splitter added 18 points for San Antonio, which has won seven straight over Boston.
”It was a good performance,” Parker said. ”We had good ball movement and it led to a lot of assists. That’s how we want to play.”
After trailing by as many as 25 in the second half, the Celtics went on a 16-0 run late in the fourth quarter to pull to 91-84 on Tyler Zeller’s bank shot. The spurt prompted San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich to bring Parker and Leonard back into the game after both sat for more than 10 minutes.
”You just do what you have to do,” Popovich said. ”I thought the Celtics did a great job staying in the game and made a good run. We told the team almost at every timeout in the second half that they’re not going to stop.”
Parker settled the Spurs, guiding them to a 10-2 run that allowed the point guard and Leonard to exit for good with a minute remaining and a 102-87 lead.
The late run was the only sustained success the Celtics had.
”Nobody, no matter when they checked in, was ready for the speed at which they hit us,” Stevens said. ”Moving the ball, especially on that end of the floor, they were terrific.”
The Celtics (30-38) remained eighth in the Eastern Conference following Indiana’s loss to Cleveland.
Evan Turner had 17 points and Avery Bradley added 16 for Boston. Celtics guard Marcus Smart was ejected after being assessed a flagrant foul 2 for delivering an uppercut to Matt Bonner’s groin with 9 minutes remaining.
Stevens praised San Antonio’s ball movement before the game, and the Spurs demonstrated why. San Antonio finished with 31 assists, including 19 on its 21 first-half baskets.
”We’ve really been talking about that our last couple of games,” Duncan said. ”When we get stagnant, you see our scoring go down. Our shots are tougher, our percentage goes down. When we move the ball like that, we’re able to help each other out and get ourselves into those easier baskets. Everything opens up from there.”
Celtics: G Isaiah Thomas (bruised back) and F Jared Sullinger (broken left foot) remained out due to injury. The Celtics are 4-2 without Thomas and 10-6 without Sullinger. … The Celtics are 12-17 against Western Conference teams this season.
Spurs: Popovich said G Manu Ginobili (sprained right ankle) is progressing as expected. San Antonio initially said Ginobili would be out seven to 10 days, but Popovich was unsure if Ginobili would be available for the team’s upcoming two-game road trip, which begins Sunday in Atlanta. … Aron Baynes had four points and five rebounds in 17 minutes after missing two straight games with a bruised rib. … San Antonio has not lost to Boston since March 3, 2011.
Smart insisted his uppercut to Bonner’s groin while trying to fight through a screen was unintentional. ”It was just a freak accident,” he said.
Smart was ejected after officials reviewed the play.
Stevens said he spoke to Smart and was disappointed by the play.
”For me, from my standpoint, it looks like an unacceptable play,” Stevens said. ”That’s what I said. I had not seen it when I spoke to the team and spoke to Marcus, but you can’t do that – simple as that.”
Bonner and Smart had to be separated, with the normally cheerful Spurs forward trying to escape from his teammates to get at the Boston rookie. The melee led to loud ”Bonner!” chants from the sold-out crowd and led Popovich to motion with his hands for Bonner to settle down.