When they came to TD Garden Wednesday, they looked like the same old Spurs. And when they whipped the Celtics, 112-100, shooting nearly 60 percent from the field in a masterful performance, they were the same old Spurs.
If you want to know whether the Spurs are capable of another championship run, just ask the Celtics, or the Pacers, who were busy celebrating a home win Friday — until they squandered a 17-point third-quarter lead to the team that never quits.
San Antonio didn’t spend the offseason overhauling its roster. The Spurs made very few changes in personnel. Their biggest move was similar to the Celtics’: re-signing a veteran free agent who was seriously contemplating retirement — in their case Tim Duncan — to a three-year contract.
In 13 games, Duncan is averaging 18.5 points, which would be his highest number since 2008-09, and 10.9 rebounds, his highest since 2007-08. Duncan appeared to be slowing in recent years as he dealt with knee issues, but he entered this season healthy and refreshed, and the difference is noticeable.
“It’s a great plus for us because at 36 you don’t know how your body is going to hold up,” said Spurs guard Tony Parker. “So far he’s been looking good. His knee is not bothering him and he’s playing great basketball.”
The method to San Antonio’s success has been adjustment. Like the Celtics in their prime, the Spurs used to win with gritty defense and dominant interior play, led by Duncan.
With Duncan aging, Parker in his prime, and Manu Ginobili a perimeter maven, San Antonio has emphasized offense more.
While the defense has slipped the past few years, the Spurs have used Parker to penetrate and spread the floor with shooters such as Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Jackson, and Matt Bonner.
“With the way the rules are in the game, it’s geared really toward perimeter people,” said coach Gregg Popovich. “As Timmy gets a little bit older, Tony’s gotten a few more touches. Timmy’s shooting a few more jump shots, kind of like Kevin [Garnett]. So it’s pretty similar in that regard.
“So the pace became more important offensively, and that’s where Manu and Tony come in, so it has evolved over the last three or four years in that direction.”
The Spurs are fifth in the league in field goal percentage at 47.6 and 10th in scoring at 100.2 points per game. Parker’s athleticism and ability to create have been instrumental in San Antonio’s offensive development.
“It’s moving pretty quickly, because we’re older than dirt, No. 1,” Popovich said. “And everybody is kind of back and they know what the deal is.”
“We just adapt,” said Parker. “Obviously, we want to keep improving on defense, and I think that’s the biggest room for improvement is defensively.
“Offensively, we have played great the past two years. This year, I feel like we’re OK, not great. I think we need to get back to where we were last year, when we had the best offense in the league.
“You have to be patient. Even if we have the same team, you always have to get it back and get everybody clicking.”
Parker understands that because of the aging roster and his experience, he has to take more responsibility for the team’s fortunes.
“Definitely the last two years, and it’s a great challenge for me,” he said. “I think, so far this year, I am going to have to be extra more aggressive if we want to stay at the top of the league.”
The Spurs have been successful on their East Coast swing despite losing Leonard for perhaps three weeks with quadriceps problems and Jackson for six weeks with a broken right pinkie.
“Those are probably our two best defenders,” Popovich said. “And we’re playing fairly well, and everybody would like to keep that going, but every team has injuries.
“Boston has had its share over the years and Doc [Rivers] has dealt with them great, so we have to do the same thing.”
Adversity is considered normal in San Antonio. The Spurs have overcome change and injury to remain of the league’s most successful franchises over the past 15 years.
When the Lakers retooled and acquired Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, and the Thunder returned the core of their roster for another run at a title, the Spurs appeared to be a long shot.
So far, though, they have remained more than relevant.
“They’ve been saying [we’re old] for the last three years,” Parker said. “The last two years, we had the best record in the West and we were two games away from the NBA Finals last year, so we just focus on us and make sure we keep working hard.
“I like our chances. Pop and [general manager] R.C. [Buford] did a great job re-signing everybody and having the same team. Our young guys have more experience. They went through the playoffs last year, so that experience is going to help. And we’ll see who’s playing the best basketball at the end of the year.”
Former Celtic gets his chance
The Celtics really liked E’Twaun Moore when they drafted him in the second round in 2011 out of Purdue. As that season progressed and Moore impressed in practice and during his brief playing stints, they liked him even more than first-round pick JaJuan Johnson.
When the Celtics decided to acquire Courtney Lee in a sign-and-trade with the Rockets, they were reluctant to part with Moore. But his salary matched, and the Rockets, although they had no intention of keeping Moore, accepted him in the July deal.
Moore was waived by Houston and quickly signed a two-year contract with the rebuilding Magic. In 12 games with Orlando, he is averaging 11.1 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 3.8 assists as a part-time starter.
Last season was on-the-job training for Moore, who learned from the Big Three and blended into the team’s fabric because of his work ethic. Moore has no issues with how things were handled last summer.
“It definitely feels good, knowing you’re going to play,” he said. “I got an opportunity to come down here and get some minutes and I definitely just want to make the best of it. It was good that I got a chance to go someplace and play with a team that wanted me.”
Moore is part of the “AD Magic” (After Dwight). Orlando moved Dwight Howard to the Lakers and decided to start over, removing general manager Otis Smith and coach Stan Van Gundy and replacing them with 30-somethings Rob Hennigan and Jacque Vaughn.
“It’s good going through a lot of things with other young guys,” said Moore. “New coaching staff, everything is new, it’s like a fresh start.”
The Celtics could have used Moore’s scoring off the bench this season; they worked him at point guard in the summer, before the trade. And now he’s seeing the minutes that he desired as a rookie.
“The year in Boston was great, I learned a lot,” said Moore. “From knowing how to prepare for a game and a practice, knowing how to get yourself ready. I learned a lot of things, learning from [Rajon] Rondo how to come off pick-and-rolls, defensively learning how to be in the right spots.
“It was a great experience, being around those veterans.”
Johnson was also involved in the trade, going to the Rockets before being waived in training camp. He was not picked up by an NBA team and instead was the No. 1 draft pick in the NBADL.
“I still talk to him and encourage him to keep going,” said Moore. “I am just keep telling him to keep his head up and work hard.”
Moore is one of several recent Celtics draft picks traded away in deals for veterans who could help right away — along with Semih Erden, J.R. Giddens, Luke Harangody, and Johnson. But Moore is unquestionably the most talented.
Asked about Sunday’s game against the Celtics in Orlando, Moore said, “It’s going to be good to see a lot of the guys. I learned a lot there and I want to play well. I think things worked out for the best for me.”
Bynum stuck in a slow lane
There was a time when Doc Rivers feared having Andrew Bynum in the Atlantic Division because he gobbled up the Celtics’ big men with his size and skill around the basket. But ask Rivers about Bynum now, and he is unsure. The former Laker has yet to appear in a game for his new team, the 76ers.
Bynum’s recurring knee problems kept him out of training camp, then he reluctantly admitted that he hurt his other knee while bowling during his rehabilitation. The 76ers have no idea when he will return, giving more material to the detractors who believe Bynum has no desire to truly be an elite player.
Bynum will be a free agent next summer, and somebody is going to give him a maximum contract; the question is whether it will be the 76ers, who gave up Andre Iguodala and Nikola Vucevic to get him.
“Same exact injuries, mirror images of the knees,” Bynum said. “I think it happened bowling, to be honest. I don’t think anybody could have told me I couldn’t do that. The cartilage is in a weakened state. I didn’t twist it, fall or nothing. I kind of broke off cartilage.”
Bynum is proving Orlando general manager Rob Hennigan correct for passing on him during trade talks with the Lakers. Bynum potentially could be one of the game’s more powerful forces when focused, but he has never consistently been healthy and focused at the same time.
Another question is whether he can cope under the intense scrutiny of 76ers coach Doug Collins, who is using a combination of Spencer Hawes and Kwame Brown until Bynum returns.
Bynum will go into the market next summer carrying baggage and a considerable injury risk. That was already known, but now NBA insiders are shaking their heads at the fact that he decided to engage in his hobby while rehabilitating from a serious knee injury.
Bynum, with his lackadaisical attitude, has disappointed those who believed he could overtake Howard as the league’s best center. Now it appears that getting injured while bowling (“IWB”?) has further dampened Bynum’s spirit, and he appears to be questioning how long his body can withstand the rigors of the NBA. At age 25, that is a bad sign.
“I sort of figure, if this happens going bowling, what’s going to happen dunking?” he said.
The 76ers had a real opportunity to make an impact in the Eastern Conference with Bynum in the middle, and they still can win a round in the playoffs without him. But that’s not why general manager Tony DiLeo made the trade. He wanted Philadelphia to be a power with its first dominant center since Moses Malone.
That plan is currently a gutter ball.
A success story for the Celtics’ NBADL affiliate in Maine is Raheem Singleton, the former Madison Park standout who played two years at Monroe College in New York before playing at the University of Maine. Singleton, a point guard who averaged 7.9 points and 3.4 assists for the Black Bears last season, made the Red Claws out of training camp . . . An interesting development in Los Angeles will be the relationship between new Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni and forward Jordan Hill. If you recall, Hill was a Knicks lottery pick in 2009, taken over Brandon Jennings and traded to the Rockets in the Tracy McGrady deal after playing just 24 games. Hill remarked after the trade that D’Antoni didn’t like rookies; D’Antoni responded that he didn’t like “bad rookies.” Well, three years later, Hill is a key component off the Lakers bench, averaging 6.3 points and 4.8 rebounds in just 15.7 minutes . . . According to ESPN, you can count Michael Finley in the group of 30-somethings contemplating a comeback. Rasheed Wallace is already back with the Knicks, and Antonio McDyess is also pondering a return. Finley, 39, last played with the Celtics in 2010; he had a couple of moments with them, but the consensus was that he had lost a couple of steps and wasn’t able to defend anymore. It would be interesting to see Finley nearly three years later.
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.