Spurs 94, Celtics 73
The San Antonio Spurs are in the thick of the playoff race again after getting back one of the key players from their championship teams.
He was sitting on their bench the whole time.
Making his 12th straight start since Tony Parker went out with a broken right hand, Manu Ginobili scored 28 points and added seven assists to lead San Antonio to a 94-73 victory over the Boston Celtics on Sunday night and help the Spurs jump from a precarious eighth place in the Western Conference into a tie for sixth.
``Manu's been playing great for the last month. He's basically taken over the team,'' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. ``He's been the same Manu we've had when we won championships. Without Tony, it's really important for somebody to step up, and he's done it.''
Richard Jefferson had 16 points and 11 rebounds, Tim Duncan had eight points and nine boards, and DeJuan Blair had 10 of his 11 rebounds in the fourth quarter. The Spurs, who started the season 4-6 and a month ago lost 11 of 18 games, have now won 12 of 16 to move into a three-way tie with Portland and Oklahoma City for sixth place in the West.
``We had a very, very slow start to the season, and we are paying for it now,'' Ginobili said. ``We should be five wins ahead of where we are.''
The Spurs have won back-to-back games against the Cavaliers and Celtics; their only losses in the last month were to Cleveland, Atlanta, Orlando and the Los Angeles Lakers. They next go to New Jersey to play the nine-win Nets on Monday night.
``It's not going to count unless we finish strong,'' Ginobili said.
Paul Pierce scored 18 points and Kevin Garnett had 12 points and 10 rebounds for Boston, which had won six of its last seven - and seven of eight at home - to seemingly erase concerns that the 2008 NBA champions had aged too quickly. Instead, the Celtics posted their lowest point total of the season, their worst home loss of the year and their third loss by 20 or more since Feb. 25.
``This does not change our progress,'' said Ray Allen, who scored seven points on 2-for-9 shooting. ``You trip up a little here, but it doesn't change the mission we're on or the direction we're heading.''
Ginobili was a starter when the Spurs won the 2005 NBA title, and for their '03 and '07 championships he was one of the league's top reserves. He was coming off the bench this year until Parker broke his right hand on March 6; since replacing him, Ginobili has averaged 24 points per game.
He had 16 points at the half and eight more in the third quarter, when he hit a running, one-handed, 25-foot bank shot at the buzzer to give the Spurs a 77-60 lead.
``It was one of those nights we were awful,'' Boston coach Doc Rivers said. ``Ginobili dominated this game. He single-handedly was the will of the game.''
The Celtics trailed just 44-43 at midgame, but the Spurs scored the first 12 points of the second half and led by as many as 17 in the third quarter.
With seven minutes left in the game, the home crowd was booing the Celtics - an unusually common occurrence lately - and with five minutes left the building was mostly empty. Rivers emptied his bench with four minutes to play, and Popovich followed soon after.
The game got rough at times - at least for the Celtics.
Garnett hit the floor hard after Ginobili blocked his shot in the second quarter. The Celtics forward landed on his back, but he soon got up and held his fingers to his ears to encourage the crowd to cheer.
In the third, Pierce went to the floor after he was fouled driving the lane. He stayed down for a while before getting up and rubbing his right shoulder while wincing in pain.
He was able to shoot the free throws, but he missed the first, and a minute later he was on the bench talking to the medical staff again.
But he played a team-high 37 minutes and said afterward he was fine.
NOTES: It was Michael Finley's first game against the Spurs since they released him on March 1, allowing him to sign with Boston. He was scoreless. ... San Antonio's next loss will tie its most in a season since going 53-29 in 1999-00, its worst season since drafting Duncan in 1997. ... The Celtics and Spurs are now 38-38 in their all-time series, 19-19 in Boston. ... San Antonio's only losses in March were to . ... It was Garnett's third consecutive double-double. ... Rajon Rondo made a highlight-reel cut through Duncan and Matt Bonner in the first quarter for a layup.