Rajon Rondo had nine assists, six points and five rebounds as the Boston Celtics (12-11) fell to the San Antonio Spurs (19-6), 103-88, Saturday from AT&T Center in San Antonio, TX.
Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan, at the top of their games, were fierce rivals, fighting toe-to-toe inside and outside the paint.
This, however, was just another wrinkle in the contest between two of the most respected NBA franchises.
It started early, with Garnett and Duncan getting into a small shoving match in the first quarter. That type of intensity didn't necessarily carry over to their teammates, but it did create a hotly contested evening.
While the Boston offense struggled for most of the first half, it was Jason Terry and Paul Pierce who really carried the load. Riding tired legs from the previous night's loss to the Houston Rockets, it was evident the veteran Celtics would struggle getting up and down the floor, much less to the rim.
Both players started slow, but Jared Sullinger and his six first-quarter rebounds helped Boston stay close, trailing 26-21 after one.
In the second quarter, Pierce scored 10 points, Terry notched 12 points and the Celtics trailed the Spurs 52-49 heading into the half.
San Antonio took advantage of the wary veteran unit, taking a 9-2 free throw advantage into the half. Through the first two quarters, Terry led the Celtics with 17 points off the bench, while Gary Neal had 12 points for the Spurs.
Neal and Danny Green combined for 11-straight points for the Spurs to open a 66-55 lead early in the third, but the Boston veterans wouldn't allow the game to get too out of hand.
Pierce and Garnett combined for eight third-quarter points, but San Antonio attacked the rim and got to the free throw line repeatedly. After holding a 9-2 free throw advantage at the half, the Spurs attempted nine free throws in the third quarter to Boston's two attempts, as they held onto a 77-69 lead heading into the final frame.
Like they have done for much of the season, the Celtics traded baskets when they need quick points and defensive stops.Terry went cold from the half, missing every shot he took in the second half and Boston struggled moving the ball effectively. San Antonio would cut off the Celtics, who quickly knocked out what had turned into a two-possession game into a 14-point lead late in the fourth.
Parker would score nine of the Spurs' 26 fourth-quarter points and the Spurs held off Boston's second-half comeback attempt.
Garnett finished with 13 points and six rebounds for Boston, while Duncan closed out the night with 12 boards and five points for the Spurs. Parker led San Antonio with 22 points and eight assists, as Pierce and Terry scored 18 each to lead the Celtics.
Boston had 19 turnovers in the game, which tied a season-high for the Celtics (Portland Trail Blazers, Nov. 30).
Manu Ginobili suffered a left quad contusion toward the end of the first quarter when he fell victim to Chris Wilcox knee to the groin area.
Boston will have a chance to get back on track when they meet up with the Chicago Bulls, Tuesday from United Center in Chicago, IL at 8:00 pm ET.
For more Boston Celtics coverage, check out our team blog, Celtics Blog.