Saturday night at the AT&T Center, the Spurs battled the Rockets in what would eventually be a very competitive game. Early on, the outcome seemed fairly ominous. To begin the game, each team seemed tentative and neither was able to create any kind of separation. As we've seen so far into this young season, the starters were not capable of distancing themselves, and I found myself hoping that they'd keep it close until our bench arrived.
Just to digress, this is a problem, is it not? Our starters never pull away from their competition. Instead, at best, they keep the game close and wait for our second unit to check in. While this is all well and good during the regular season, it will not work in the playoffs.
In the regular season, teams play their second unit extensively to keep their starters fresh. In the playoffs, coaches dramatically increase their starters' minutes. So, in the playoffs, the Spurs bench can no longer take advantage of their opponents' bench; instead, they are playing against guys like Lebron, and the Spurs no longer have that crucial advantage they enjoyed all year. We need the Spurs' starters to play like the best players on the team. If not, I feel as if the Spurs are setting themselves up for failure.
So, the Spurs starters traded baskets with the Rockets for the first six minutes of the game, and the score was 10-10. At this point, Popovich threw in Tiago Splitter and Manu Ginobili. Yep, this is also a problem. Why isn't Tiago starting as he has for the last 400 days? Pop started Diaw instead of Tiago tonight, and it didn't pay off at all. I hate it when any coach adjusts his lineup due to an opponent. I just feel that you have to ride your best starting lineup regardless of the opposition. If you're going to lose, lose with your best guys.
Spurs fans everywhere assumed that the second unit would do what they always do, go on a run. It didn't happen. This version of the second unit, since Pop changed it all up, was not able to click and the Rockets closed the first quarter to lead, 30-24.
Disjointed, the new second unit began the second quarter very poorly. Just two minutes into it they found themselves down 39-26 and Pop took a timeout. I was at the game so I did not know exactly when Diaw was injured, but he never re-entered the game after the first quarter. That killed the Spurs. Bili MiNelli was clearly lacking their special ingredient as they missed jumper after jumper and their offense never seemed to flow as it normally does. The Rockets jumped out to a 52-32 lead, leading to another timeout from Pop.
In case you are new to the site or root for the Rockets, cover your ears or shield your eyes. Actually, just skip these next several paragraphs to the one that begins with, "Back to the game." The officials were absolutely terrible. They never realized that James Harden was flopping the entire game. I don't understand it at all. I can't fathom rooting for the Rockets. How can you feel good about rooting for a player that flops every time he has the ball? Harden flops every time he makes a move. I don't think he tries to score without flopping. He should be fined by the league at least ten times a game.
Oh, you think it doesn't matter? It does. These points add up. He acts as if he were hit before contact and is so practiced at this "art" that he makes the shot. The officials tonight were worthless and called the Spurs for a foul every time he flopped. (I had my own floor seats tonight and trust me, I let the officials know how I felt; to the chagrin of my girlfriend. Whatever. It's ridiculous.) He made eight of 13 flop freethrows. Please, how is that basketball? If it were a pickup game, he would have been punched in his stupid beard. He makes a mockery of officiating yet we all have to accept it? Harden's play devalues the sport. He manipulates the officials and the game of basketball. It is disgusting.
Harden shot 13 freethrows while the Spurs shot 13 for the game. So, should all the Spurs pretend there is contact before taking any? Is that what the league wants? That's what they are encouraging when they reward Harden over and over again. Seriously, this has got to stop.
Back to the game, down 22, Tony Parker took over. He scored six straight and assisted for the seventh and eighth point to get the Spurs back into the game. Two Tiago free throws later and the Spurs had cut the lead to 11 at the half, down 57-46.
The third began with the starters and though it seemed as if they were constantly on the verge of getting back into it, the Rockets made big shot after big shot. James Harden and Chandler Parsons simply would not allow the Spurs to get close. Four minutes into the third quarter the Spurs called a timeout down 69-52 and things seemed bleak.
Behind a couple of threes by Danny Green and Matt Bonner, the Spurs clawed their way back within 10. At this point the AT&T Center was popping playoff loud and the Spurs felt the support. Tony Parker led the way and with the crowd's help, the Spurs trailed by only three going into the final period, 83-80.
Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be. The Spurs definitely put forth the effort tonight, but the Rockets were not to be denied. James Harden took this game from the Spurs. Let's hope the Land Walrus' flipper isn't too damaged. The Spurs clearly need an aggressive Diaw to stabilize the bench.
- Yes, Rockets fans, I realize that Manu also flops. However, here is the difference. Manu absorbs the contact and then SOMETIMES embellishes. Harden ALWAYS embellishes and then absorbs the contact. If you know basketball, it's hard to defend Harden. I'm sorry you have to root for him.
- To be fair, the Rockets played an unbelievable game. I really don't think any teams aside from the Heat and Thunder could have endured that Spurs rally and pulled off a win. Welcome to the best four teams in the world club, Rockets. I hope Houston wins enough games to get in the top four in the West so we don't have to see them till at the earliest round two. Also, this team will give the Thunder fits in the playoffs.
If Gregg Popovich had played Tony Parker 44 minutes instead of 38, I'm pretty sure the Spurs would have won comfortably. Once Tony figured out that whenever Dwight wasn't under the basket he needed to attack, the Spurs offense flowed. Next time the Spurs have to pull Dwight away from the rim so Parker can dominate Fisher.
- Just before halftime, Popovich called a timeout and drew up a play. Duncan had to inbound the ball from in front of the Rockets' bench. Kevin McHale smartly decided to sit to the right of Duncan, disrupting his passing lane to Manu. Manu bobbled the poor pass and missed at the buzzer. Pop went after the official and was called for a technical. Jason Kidd was fined for intentionally manipulating the game for this team's advantage. McHale will most likely not be fined for this, but it was definitely unsportsmanlike behavior. Not going to lie, I liked it. (But I hate Harden with every fiber of my being. Whatever.)
- Matt Bonner finished with a +/- of -6. He sucks. I told you so, Dr. Dre.
- I found myself wishing that Kawhi had more to his offensive game. The contested two pointer seems to be his go-to move aside from things that flow naturally through the offense. We need him to be more fluid with the ball. Or the offense needs to give him more space when he has the ball. I don't know. It's just not working as well as I'd like it to.
- Danny BIG GREEN was just one of five from deep. They all seemed somewhat forced. He also needs to find a way to generate high percentage shots. Whatever, I'm sure he'll go five of six next game.
- Marco Belinelli took a lot of shots. He hit seven of 13, which isn't bad but he missed a lot in a row in the early part of the game. To be fair, a lot of them came late in the shot clock. I think the Spurs' offense got too used to the porous defenses it's been facing and the Thunder/Rockets possess more athleticism that the Spurs have been used to.
For the opponent's perspective, please visit SBNation's The Dream Shake. Any other Spurs' fans really enjoy Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon? He was so, so good.