If the NBA actually had the ability to do so, it'd be wise to somehow flex the Spurs' next matchup with the Rockets into prime time nationally. San Antonio used the only stretch of minutes where any defense was played to pull away from the ludicrously high-scoring Houston Rockets, 122-116, in the second consecutive ABA game played between the two teams in a matter of weeks.
A lineup consisting of Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter broke open a six-point Spurs lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and despite the Rockets scoring 17 points in the final 3:45, gave San Antonio enough of a cushion to win its fourth straight game.
"Well, we got a group out there that did an excellent job of both sprinting back in transition, showing a crowd in full-court shell and getting guys off the three-point line," Gregg Popovich said following the game. "But other than that period, we were pretty poor in that respect, and that's Houston's game.
"That's why they're kicking everybody's butt and scoring all these points."
It was reminiscent of the teams' previous meeting, where a few timely stops were ultimately what won the game. San Antonio allowed Houston to shoot over 52 percent from the floor and was out-rebounded 39-34, but the silver and black allowed only seven points to the Rockets over the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter. That was more than enough on a night where the Spurs were even more unstoppable themselves.
Tony Parker had 31 points and 10 assists, Tim Duncan scored nearly a point per minute on his way to 30 and Manu Ginobili had a season-high 23 points, including 5-for-9 from deep.
Lame, right? The only member of the Big 3 to fail to reach the 30-point plateau. He smiled after he was asked in the locker room what the problem was.
"They were unbelievable tonight," Manu said of Parker and Duncan. "I had a nice stretch in the third quarter but those guys have been great all season, so I kind of joined in on the scoring today."
Ginobili talked about the significance of the defense in the final period, saying it was what gave them the ability to close the game. After Parker had already mentioned Houston's likeness to the Phoenix Suns' offense under D'Antoni and Nash, Manu said it was difficult to deal with as the clock wound down.
"It was fast, especially late in the fourth when they really started to push the ball and we just could not keep up," Ginobili said. "That is the way they have been scoring, but on a five-on-five set it is harder for them to score."
Of course it doesn't hurt when you don't have to deal with James Harden to begin the fourth. The Rockets' Rick-Ross-beardy lookin' star picked up his fourth foul with 49 seconds left in the third period and remained in the game. But the move (or non-move) came back to hurt the team as he picked up his fifth foul only 20 seconds later. And on a jump ball, of all things. Harden appeared to hold Splitter down as the Brazilian tried to win the tip, and Houston's leading scorer had to take a seat prior to what turned out to be the game's deciding stretch.
Harden scored 33 points in more than 41 minutes, though he could do nothing but watch as his team fell far out of a game they were right in. Rockets coach Kevin McHale said he felt his team ran out of gas after overcoming the early deficit it faced. San Antonio was up 26-11 with just under five minutes left in the first quarter, but Houston's offense came roaring back.
"I was proud of the guys and how they battled back. We missed a few looks. We had a few turnovers. Turnovers were a bugaboo for us all night long," McHale said. "You can't turn the ball over 24 times on the road and expect to win."
And it's not like the Spurs were much better. San Antonio had 20 giveaways as a team, themselves. But the 14 steals gave the silver and black three straight games with at least 11 steals, racking up 42 thefts in as many contests. The box score was strange, though. The Rockets had more points in the paint (52-40), second-chance points (15-4) and fast-break points (27-19), yet their largest lead was only one point while the Spurs' biggest was a 19-point gap.
Basketball is a strange sport, but sometimes you just have to throw up your 'welp' hands as a fan, sit back and watch the scoring happen.
"It was very up-tempo tonight and I personally love it, but we have to get stops," Parker said. "There was a point where we knew we would have to get stops to win the game and we made them in the fourth quarter."
Psshh. Stops. In a late-December game before New Year's resolutions are made (like playing good defense), who needs 'em?
-- Spurs scored a season high in a first quarter (41) and a first half (69).
-- Tim Duncan passed Tree Rollins on the NBA's all-time blocked-shots list with 2,543 rejections.