The Rockets started the game with the dubious frontcourt duo of Dwight Howard and Omer Asik, as they look to see if two guys who can't shoot or dribble can play alongside each other. The pairing had some success tonight, although Asik spent pretty much the entire time deferring to Howard on both ends of the floor.
The game's end result was mostly decided by a dominant third-quarter performance by James Harden, who was allowed to feast upon the defense against Marco Belinelli, knocking down threes, getting into the lane and making the Rocket lead balloon into double figures. I have to believe that Pop was largely testing the Italian's defensive limitations by asking him to repeatedly try to stop Harden. Spurs fans shouldn't worry too much, as Kawhi should be much more successful with the defensive assignment the next time the two teams meet.
While Tim and Tony played just 20 and 23 minutes, respectively, Rockets head coach Kevin McHale gave his big three plenty of time to try and jell together. Harden and Howard played 30 minutes each, while Parsons played 26. Instead of playing his aging stars, Pop decided to spend more time experimenting with lineups, and some certainly appeared stronger than others (more on that below).
The highlight of the game for San Antonio, outside of Baynesie's thunderous fourth-quarter put-back dunk and what I can only believe was the sole alley-oop of the preseason (Mills to Ayres), occurred in between periods. Following the Spurs' awful third quarter, the timing couldn't have been more perfect for this reunion between Pop and flamboyant court-troll Craig Sager. Watch that, get excited for more GOML greatness to come, and read on to hear my thoughts from the game.
Baynes proved that he could be a solid anti-Dwight in last year's series against the Lakers, and only affirmed this notion by holding his own against Howard in the few minutes where they were matched up. Both examples have that "yeah, but..." factor since one was at the tail end of a series sweep and the other is during preseason, but I don't think anyone is doubting the guy's ability at this point. Baynes scored a team-high 16 points on 8-13 shooting, displaying a solid jumpshot and a knack for finishing around the rim. Defensively, Baynes is virtually unmovable, while displaying some decent lateral quickness. Okay, I'm done man-crushing. For now.
The outside shooting was there (2-5 for threes), and Patty could also be seen finding the right guys on offense to set up shots (six assists). On the defensive side, Mills is clearly no imposing force, but he keeps his hands active and should at least somewhat annoy opposing ball-handlers. In the Mills-Cojo competition for backup point guard (which may only be occurring in my head at this point), Mills once again gets the nod.
Green saw the floor for 25 minutes, and was able to help anchor the offense when Tony and Tim were off the court, totalling 12 points on 5-13 shooting. He drew the short straw in having to guard Harden in the first half, but fared much better than Belinelli did in the second. Green's off-the-dribble decision-making will continue to be something to dissect going into the regular season. Danny will have plenty of chances to make plays as he's chased off the three-point line, and he looked alright against Houston. His most notable mistake was passing up on an open five-footer, leading to a three-second violation call on Timmy.
The Spurs closed the first quarter with a lineup of Ayres, Baynes, Belinelli, de Colo and Cory Joseph, and the offense was as ugly as the name above reads, giving away an early 18-14 lead and prompting Pop to bring back his starters early in the second period. This might be the worst lineup the Spurs can field this season.
While the last lineup was quickly banished back into the seventh level of basketball hell, a similar one (Ayres, Baynes, Belinelli, Danny Green, Patty Mills) was together for much of the game and saw a good deal more success. I don't think the Spurs can get by with any lineup where Belinelli is the first offensive option (as with Bayllironjello), but by adding Mills and Green, the five possess the spacing needed to make things happen on the perimeter.
Tony and Tim
Both guys look healthy and ready to play in games that matter. What else do you need to know? Bring on the regular season!
More from Pounding The Rock:
- Spurs will sport new military uniforms this year
- 30 preseason predictions: Denver Nuggets
- J.R. Wilco breaks down the Western Conference contenders on the Phil Naessens show
- Preseason Game Preview: Spurs vs. Rockets
- NBA GM Survey: Everybody loves Gregg Popovich