You can blame it on the sleeves of their holiday jerseys if you want, but the Spurs didn't start well, looking more like it was the morning after New Year's instead of Christmas evening. Through the first five and-a-half minutes of the game, the Spurs had only managed 9 points (all on three-pointers from Manu Ginobili) to Houston's 18. And that 9 points was the margin the score fluctuated around for nearly the entire contest.
In the first quarter, Chandler Parsons paced the Rockets with five makes on five shots, four of them three-pointers, and Houston's lead ballooned up to 18 points. Terrence Jones helped out with eight points of his own, but only Ginobili contributed much for the home team as the Rockets dropped 40 first points in the opening frame. The Spurs could only manage 25.
The second quarter saw a quick Spurs run right off the bat, as four points from Marco Belinelli were mixed in with jumpers from Cory Joseph and Patty Mills, and the lead was down to 7. But the Rockets responded with a run in the middle of the quarter and the deficit at halftime was those same 9 points from the beginning of the game, 60-51.
The hosts made a push coming out of halftime and Boris Diaw cut the lead to two points with just under four minutes left in the third, but that was the closest the Spurs would get as the Rockets kept pushing the lead back up to 9 points. With 6 minutes to go in the game, it was 97-88.
The story down the stretch was James Harden, who ended with 28 points but had 15 of them in the fourth. Tony Parker's been the man the Spurs have looked to at the end of games, but he wasn't able to deliver. Late or early, through scoring or assisting, Parker didn't have it and the Spurs lost yet another game to a playoff-bound team, 111-98.
Here's the transcript of Popovich's post-game presser:
We just didn't give very good performances. You can live with that from time-to-time. Nobody's going to play perfect every night, but you can't combine poor performances with a lack of physicality and a lack of discipline. They whipped us good. That's an embarrassing loss.
On James Harden's performance:
He was great. He's an All-Star. He's one of the best players in the league. One of the toughest guys to guard and he was great.
On what he meant about "lack of discipline"
It has to do with everything. It's defensive. It's offensive. It has to do with everything.