The injury bug keeps stinging the Spurs with a fury. As Angus Crawford mentioned, until recently the Spurs had been lucky in the health department compared to the rest of the league. But coming into this game with injuries to Tiago Splitter, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, they really couldn't afford to lose anyone else at the wing. So of course Manu Ginobili suffered another hamstring injury that could keep him out a few games. Oh, and they also lost this game, which means they have joined the rest of the league by experiencing a losing streak for the first time this season.
With James Harden out for the Rockets, it looked like inside scoring was going to be key for both teams. The Spurs dominated early thanks to some great offense by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Boris Diaw. With Dwight Howard, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons going 1-12 in the first quarter, the only reason the Rockets stayed close was the (increasingly less surprising) stellar play of Terrence Jones. The former Kentucky Wildcat made up for Dwight Howard's struggles by finishing close to the hoop and keeping the big man battle balanced. But the Spurs moved the ball and controlled the paint en route to an encouraging 28-20 lead after the first quarter.
With the three ball refusing to fall, the Spurs' offense started to sputter. Fortunately, the defense held and the Rockets only scored 19 points in the second. The Spurs' subs kept the lead around the ten point mark but the personal fouls kept on piling up as San Antonio fouled to make up for Houston's athletic mismatches. Fortunately, the Rockets couldn't capitalize, missing eight of their ten freebies in the second. But despite a bad offensive half by the Rockets, the Spurs were only up seven after a couple of timely Howard buckets to end the half.
As it usually happens, those small leads don't last. The Rockets immediately cut it to two after a Lin three pointer and a Beverly steal and layup to start the third. The teams exchanged buckets until Hoston tied the game. As the Rockets got their first lead with 9:18 to go in the third, Pop brought in Manu, who immediately made a difference with his aggressive drives to the bucket that got him to the line. Despite giving Parsons a few good looks on the other end, Ginobili help the Spurs weather the storm, and even dunked on a beautiful spot-up drive.
Unfortunately, that's when Manu's hamstring gave out.
Ginobili immediately felt the sting and signaled the bench, but not before Chandler Parsons drove past him for a dunk of his own. For some strange reason, Manu tried to stay in the game, seemingly in denial of his obvious injury. But he was finally subbed out and the Spurs were left reeling after their latest injury-related blow.
Despite the huge setback, Houston's lead was manageable and a couple of stops were all a ridiculously short-handed Spurs team needed to stay in the game. So Pop went to one of his favorite strategies: Hack-a-Howard. Unfortunately, Dwight went 10-15 from the line in the final four minutes of the quarter. The Spurs went into the final period down eight after being outscored 33 to 18 in the third.
The Spurs tried to regroup going into the fourth by trying to exploit a perceived advantage in the post with Boris Diaw consistently attacking Jones. It made sense, as the bench unit had no real shot creator working for them in the perimeter. But the Rockets were willing to allow Diaw to score one on one to stop the Spurs spot up shooters. The Spurs attempted to make runs but the Rockets basically managed that lead and got the W at home, 97-90.
- The injury to Ginobili puts the Spurs in a really tough spot. They are missing their top three wings and are left with only Othyus Jeffers and Marco Belinelli as the only players whose natural position is the 2/3. It's possible Danny Green can return a little early or Manu only misses a couple of games. But we should all get ready for a lot of Nando De Colo at the two.
- The Hack-a-Howard experiment worked against the Spurs in this one. I understand why Pop decided to go with that strategy. The Spurs were missing four of their best defensive players, so gambling on Howard missing a few freebies was not a bad idea. But it backfired. I wouldn't make too much of it but the Spurs need to reconsider that strategy if they ever meet the Rockets in the playoffs.
- The Rockets' free throw attempts were definitely inflated because the Spurs intentionally fouled Howard but a -26 differential is just ridiculous. To make matters worse, the Spurs three point shooting was off (6-23), so they couldn't take advantage of the Rockets' 21 (!) misses.
- It's really hard to draw any conclusions from a game like this one. The Spurs will eventually get healthy and the games they play with a full roster will give us a better idea of what they can do this year. For anyone impatient enough to think a trade needs to be made, let me remind you that, at full force, the Spurs have one of the deepest and most talented rosters in the league.
- Jeremy Lin caught a lot of flak because a desperate New York media made him out to be a savior and a superstar. His skills were not at that level then and are not at that level now. But he is a really, really great offensive player and the Rockets were smart to sign him.
For the opponent's perspective, visit the always great The Dream Shake