SAN ANTONIO – The Spurs finally got their first signature victory of the season Friday night, beating the league-leading Boston Celtics 105-102 on a scintillating, high-arching three-pointer by 40-year-old Manu Ginobili with five seconds left in a marquee matchup at the AT&T Center.
The Silver and Black (18-8) are third in the Western Conference, but 14 of their 18 victories have come against teams under .500. The win over the Celtics (22-5) pushed their record against opponents .500 or better to 4-6.
“Just a shot,” Ginobili said when asked about his game-winner. “It just went in. It’s the same as the other shots. I saw (Jayson) Tatum (Celtics forward) going with LA (LaMarcus Aldridge). But, I just saw the replay and (Al) Horford (Celtics forward) contested great.
“I just gave it a little more air, shot it higher and it just went in. I think I got even a little lucky because it’s not my usual shot. I had to shoot it higher.”
Boston, which has the best record in the NBA, had won 22 of its past 24 games after an 0-2 start. The Celts had won their last four in a row and were 8-0 against Western Conference opponents.
After Boston coach Brad Stevens called two consecutive timeouts, dynamic Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving’s three-pointer from the corner did everything but go in, rolling around the rim before going out with 3.4 seconds remaining. Spurs guard Patty Mills gathered the rebound to end the game.
Irving was wide open when he was passed the ball in the corner, but Spurs forward Rudy Gay ran out to him and contested the shot enough to make Irving pump once before he let the ball go.
“I thought it was cash money,” Irving said. “I thought it was going to hit the bottom of the net and, obviously, I didn’t put enough on it. So, it was a good play call and you know, it just happens. You’re going to replay it for probably about 33 more minutes and then I’ll be over it.”
Irving was spectacular in defeat, finishing with 36 points on 13-of-21 shooting. He drained 6 of 10 shots from the three-point line to keep the Spurs scrambling. Irving recorded his career high against the Spurs on March 12, 2015 at the AT&T Center, scoring 57 points when he played with Cleveland.
Gay credited the Celts for getting Irving open for his last shot.
“It was a good play,” Gay said. “I was a little late reacting to it, but it’s a learning experience. I’ve got to bring my thinking cap, especially at the end of the game like that.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked about the clutch shot by Ginobili, who is in his 16th season with San Antonio.
“Manu, like he told me a lot of years ago, ‘This is what I do,’” Popovich said. “He’s amazing. He loves those moments and he’s come through an awful lot and he did it again tonight. At age 40.”
Ginobili came off the bench to score 11 points on 3-of-8 shooting, including 2 of 4 shots from beyond the arc. He added four rebounds and three assists. His first three-pointer just beat the halftime buzzer, and gave the Silver and Black their first lead of the game (56-55).
“The two plays Manu made at the end of the half and at the end of the game were like vintage Manu,” Stevens said. “I said before the game he’s probably the best player, one of the best players, at the end of quarters I’ve ever seen. Now I wish I wouldn't have said it.”
Aldridge led the Spurs with another double-double, finishing with 27 points and 10 rebounds. He made 11 of 20 shots, 1 of 2 from the three-point line. Starting his third game for injured Kyle Anderson at small forward, Gay had 15 points and eight rebounds.
Spurs center Pau Gasol also had a double-double, finishing with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Tony Parker (11) rounded out San Antonio double-figure scoring.
San Antonio guard Danny Green missed the second half with tightness in his left groin. With Irving launching shots from every spot on the floor, the Spurs sorely missed Green’s defensive handiwork.
The Silver and Black have played without All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard since the preseason. Leonard has taken longer than expected to recover from tendinopathy in his right quadriceps and Popovich hasn’t given a timeline for his return.
Asked before Friday night’s when he expects Leonard to return to the lineup, Popovich said: “Sooner rather than later.”
There was increasing speculation the past two days that Leonard would make his season debut in Phoenix on Saturday night, but other reports had him returning at Dallas on Tuesday.
The Spurs’ game against Phoenix tips off at 8 o’clock Saturday.
Irving led the Celtics’ first-half scoring with 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting, including 4 of 5 from the three-point line. Jayson Tatum (11) and Terry Rozier (11) also scored in double figures for Boston in the first half.
Aldridge scored 19 points to lead the Spurs’ scoring in the first half. He hit 7 of 11 shots, 1 of 2 from beyond the arc. He was the only San Antonio player scoring in double figures in the first half.