The first Thanksgiving dinner of Davis Bertans’ life was spent with his Spurs teammates and coaches at a Boston restaurant during a team feast hosted by noted epicure Gregg Popovich. Before experiencing Thursday’s team dinner, Bertans, a 24-year-old rookie from Latvia, had only heard about the tradition of the holiday feast.
On Friday afternoon at Boston’s TD Garden, roughly 40 miles from the site of the very first Thanksgiving, in what is now Plymouth, Mass., he expressed his gratitude to Popovich for introducing him to the great American tradition by helping the Spurs score their eighth straight victory, 109-103, over the Boston Celtics. The win kept the Spurs perfect on the road this season, 9-0.
In a game in which San Antonio’s starting big men, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol, combined to miss 13-of-17 shots and scored only 10 points – all from Aldridge – the Spurs bench made all the difference, and Bertans was a huge part of that. After hitting double-figure scoring for the first time by making all four of his shots and scoring 11 in Tuesday’s win in Charlotte, he made 6-of-8 shots against Boston, 3-of-5 from long range, to score 15 points.
Bertans was one of three reserves in double figures, joined by Patty Mills (19) and David Lee (15), as San Antonio’s bench players outscored Boston’s reserves, 56-24.
The bench’s most meaningful contribution came after the starters ceded a 24-10 lead to the Celtics in the first eight minutes. The reserves sliced that to 10 points by the end of the first period. More importantly, they turned the momentum significantly.
“Our first group was still in bed, obviously,” Popovich said. “So, that’s why I took them off the court. It was hard to watch. The bench was the key. We gave up the whole first quarter. After that, we knuckled down. I think the starters played better after that too.”
Indeed, when the starters returned for the second period, they followed the bench’s lead. By halftime, they had used two significant runs to slice Boston’s lead to two points, 48-46.
“It felt great to give that push to the team,” said Bertans, a 6-foot-10 forward acquired in the same trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to San Antonio. “After that, we just started playing Spurs basketball and it felt great.”
“They’re doing a great job,” said leading scorer Kawhi Leonard, who finished with 25 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks. “They came in with great energy today, gave us some spirit out there to come in that second quarter and start it off right. They led us by example tonight.”
Bertans was playing in Serbia when the Pacers, acting on the Spurs’ behalf, picked him in the second round as part of the deal that sent guard George Hill to Indiana in exchange for the rights to both Leonard and Bertans. He likely would have come to the Spurs sooner than this season had he not undergone two separate surgeries to repair a right knee ligament. Now, he has become a significant member of Popovich’s bench unit, especially with 7-footer DeWayne Dedmon still nursing his own knee injury. He has played no fewer than 10 minutes and 50 seconds in the past four games, logging a season high 23 against the Celtics.
“Definitely, the more minutes I get on the court, even if it is two, five or even less, it just helps to build confidence,” Bertans said. “It just helps to understand the system during the game. It’s completely different in practice or just on the paper.”
Lee, a 33-year-old veteran of 11 previous seasons, also had his best game as a Spur, to the chagrin of Celtics fans who regarded him as a bust in the 28 games he played for Boston last season. He had season highs in both points (15) and rebounds (12), recording his first double-double for San Antonio.
“The (Celtics) got off to a great start tonight and I thought this was a big road victory for us,” Lee said. “I don’t think we played our best tonight but I thought it was a gritty game by both teams. So, more than my own performance it was really, really good we got another road win and ran this winning streak up.”
“It was a great win for us against a really active team at both ends of the court,” Popovich said. “(The Celtics) are aggressive defensively. Offensively, they’re disciplined and unselfish changing sides of the court. They do everything right. So, we feel great to get out of here with a win.”
The quest to remain perfect away from AT&T Center will continue on Saturday with a third road game in four days, this time against the Washington Wizards.