Rehash: Spurs sit three starters, lose semi-meaningless game to Rockets

Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Spor

I don't care what anyone says, the Rockets starters are definitely better than the Spurs' third-stringers.

Game 81 @Houston: Rockets 104, Spurs 98     Rec: 62-19  Southwest: Clinched   West: Clinched   Streak: L-1

I wanted to put as much effort in this rehash as the Spurs put in that game last night, but I just couldn't help myself.

Seriously though, well done, Rockets. Way to pull out a home win in a game you needed to lock up home court advantage against Portland in the first round against a crunch time Spurs lineup of Boris Diaw, Marco Belinelli, the Spurs coyote and a couple of hobos.

Dwight Howard and James Harden are exceptionally annoying. I've come to accept the cold, stark reality that consecutive series against Houston and Oklahoma City (assuming the Spurs even survive the former) will turn me into a complete lunatic by the end. I dislike everything about both teams. After those series (again assuming the Spurs make it past them both) the Heat would seem like a love-fest by comparison.

Well, for like two seconds, then I'll want to stuff Dwayne Wade into a shuttle and launch it towards the sun, but I digress.

I mean, does anyone, ANYONE, really think that Howard can't control his limbs and that he's simply following through when he whacks people in the face after they wrap his arms up on fouls? He's done this for years, on three separate teams, going back to Orlando, and he gets away it 95 percent of the time. Shaq used to do the same thing, a not-so-subtle message to people that he didn't want to be fouled. It's gross the refs don't "T" up people for that every time. Players who foul are making basketball plays. Getting hit in the face in return is not a basketball play.

Then there's Harden, who uses his off-arm like a running back during his drives (and takes as many steps) and not only gets away with it, but half the time gets free throws out of it. The one drive where he just barreled shoulder-first into Ginobili after a no-call on the other end was egregious enough, but then there was that drive in the fourth quarter where he literally shoved Belinelli backward with his off-arm and didn't get hit with a foul.

Anyway, even though Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Ginobili were all meh for large stretches of the game -- none of them played in the fourth quarter when the Spurs made their big run -- I still came away from the proceedings mostly encouraged by a potential second-round matchup with Houston because from what I see there isn't much they can do defensively to discourage Parker or Ginobili from getting to the rim whenever they feel like getting there. Yes, the Spurs will have to hit threes at a much better rate than they did on Monday (having Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard shooting them instead of Damian James and Austin Daye will help) and they'll have to defend Howard much better (ditto Tiago Splitter as opposed to Aron Baynes and Jeff Ayres) but there's no doubt the Spurs are the better team on paper. Honestly, I think Portland might beat Houston anyway, but we'll save those thoughts for later.

A few stream of consciousness thoughts:

Ginobili defended Harden quite well when the two were matched up in the second half. He got up into him without fouling and forced him into some tough shots. It's not a pairing I'd be comfortable with a lot, because Harden can get anyone in foul trouble, but if Leonard is forced to sit for I'd be okay with Manu having a go at him, perhaps drawing a charge or two. There is also the school of thought that Leonard could shut down a Chandler Parsons completely and force the Rockets to try to beat the Spurs 2-on-5.

Baynes was bad last night. Very bad. He couldn't slow Howard down at all, got thrown out of the way quite a bit and couldn't rebound at all. Has he lost weight? Are his ribs still bothering him? He looked like Bonner out there.

Conversely, Jeff Ayres continues his run of relatively strong play. We've gone back and forth between Ayres and Baynes all season long as to who's the fourth-best big, and it seems that every time Baynes puts a couple of performances together he gets hurt. Right now Ayres is the better guy, but I think the only answer to the "Who should be the fourth big?" question is: None of the above. Gimme Leonard as the backup four.

Pop was so into this game that he didn't call a time out the entire fourth quarter. For me the telltale sign that he mentally checked out the moment he took the "Big Three" out of the game, was that he didn't explode off the bench when the refs missed a clear eight-second violation on the Rockets. They didn't advance the ball past halfcourt until 15 seconds were left on the shot-clock.

Weird decision by Pop not playing Austin Daye all game and then throwing him out there in the middle of the fourth quarter. Daye played 5:40, missed all three of his shots and had a bad foul against Harden on a three-point attempt. That was the only play boneheaded enough to get Pop out of his seat.

Joseph continues to be an asset for the Spurs. He's been largely overshadowed by Patty Mills, and they're very different players, but Joseph has persevered and showed that he belongs and that he can fill in, even when shoehorned into defending opposing shooting guards. If Mills moves on next year because he's priced himself out of the Spurs' budget, I'll be perfectly fine returning to Joseph as the backup point. R.C. Buford has failed to come up with a worthwhile fourth big, but the Spurs wing/guard depth is the envy of the league.

Howard does look more threatening offensively this year but I'm still more comfortable against his post-ups than with them shooting open threes. I'll make that trade all day. Also, don't be afraid to foul him fellas, especially after offensive rebounds.

Standard Pop Quote:

"I thought [the reserves who changed the game in the second half] were great. It was a good night. We got the minutes we wanted to get for certain guys and got a lot of guys some extra minutes. Nobody got hurt, so it was a good night."

By the Numbers:

29: The number of starting lineups used by the Spurs this season.

17: The number of Spurs who've started at least one game this season. TRIVIA QUESTION: Name the two fellows who've spent time on the Spurs this season who haven't started a single game. (Hint: One of them is still on the roster.)

688: Three-point buckets made by the Spurs this season, breaking a franchise record of 685 they set in 2010-11. Sadly they did it in a game in which they shot 23.5 percent (4-of-17) from downtown.

2: Teams that have swept the Spurs in four regular season games, the Thunder and Rockets, obviously.

3: 60-win teams that have been swept in four games by an opponent in all of NBA history before this season.

0: The Spurs magic number for home court coming into the game, which is the second-most important number stat of the night.

0: Injuries suffered by the Spurs in the game. The most important thing.

Sequence of the Game:

A 10-0 run from 9:27 to 6:40 to go in the fourth quarter where the Spurs turned a 80-75 deficit to an 85-80 lead, getting hoops from four different guys in Diaw, Baynes, Joseph and Belinelli while the Rockets went 0-of-5 in that stretch, including three missed layups, two from Howard. Sadly, it wasn't to be. I will, however, gladly trade a road win (or two) in Houston in May for the one that they didn't get last night.

Random Observation:

The Rockets announcing crew of play-by-play man Bill Worrell and color analysts Clyde Drexler and Matt Bullard have this infuriating habit of saying something completely at odds with the facts and then being reeled in by the producer a couple minutes later into a halfway correction, but they really hit their peak on replays. There was a sequence in the third quarter where our enterprising trio was ready to string up Ginobili for the flop of the century before the magic of replay intervened and Worrell sheepishly admitted, that Harden did indeed commit an offensive foul, with the twins quick to interject, "But that was only the second foul." I actually feel sorry for these guys a little. They have to pretend they like Howard now whiling ignoring Harden's embarrassing defense.

Your Three Stars:

3) Damian James (1 pt):
He had three more boards in 29 minutes -- nine -- than Ayres, Baynes and Bonner combined for in 48. Played some decent defense and didn't look totally clueless. To say he needs to work on the corner three would be like saying I need to work on getting in shape. (e.g. Obvious to the point of overstatment.)

2) Cory Joseph (21 pts):
I'm pretty sure Joseph is the Spurs' tenth best player. If there's one conclusion I'm fine making after 81 games, it's that. 11 through 15 you can pretty much throw in the blender, where in any one game out of seven or eight I'll be pleased with their efforts but the rest of the time I come away thinking, "Say, I'd be quite content if that gentleman never played another second in a Spurs uniform."

1) Boris Diaw (55 pts):
Led the team's fourth quarter charge and helped the Spurs take a brief lead with under five minutes to go with his multi-faceted array of skills. Part of why they couldn't hold on to the lead had to do with him being unable to come up with rebounds when it matters. Tell me if you recall having seen this before.

Up Next: Vs. Los Angeles Lakers (26-55), Wednesday, Apr. 14:
The Lakers hurt their mathematical chances of landing a top-four seed in the next draft by more than 50 percent by beating the Jazz Monday night. See? That's exactly why I thought it was important for the Spurs to wrap up home court as soon as possible. I didn't at all take a win in that final game for granted, not against a Lakers squad too dumb to know what's good for them. You really don't want home court on the line when some fool like Nick Young or Jodie Meeks is liable to go off for 40. I care not in the slightest about this game. Just please don't get hurt, Spurs. In fact, I'd just go ahead and bubble wrap Ginobili right now.

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