You can blame whoever you want. Some will say this is the fault of the schedule-makers, who refuse to learn the lesson that you just don't schedule the Spurs on nationally-televised games on the second game of a back-to-back. Others will be mad at Pop for purposefully resting guys on big games despite the Spurs benefiting from the national TV money like every other team and for robbing fans of an exciting match up. But we can all agree that once news broke that not only the injured guys but also Duncan and Ginobili were going to sit out the game, it lost its appeal.
So Rockets fans probably wanted to see their guys blow out the Spurs and stay undefeated and Spurs fans wanted to see how well the deep bench guys, especially rookie Kyle Anderson, would perform against a top notch rival. In that sense - and only in that sense - everyone got what they wanted.
Aron Baynes had a reputation of a "Howard stopper" of sorts among Spurs fans, dating back to the 2013 series against the Lakers. Baynes, who was filling in for an injured Splitter, frustrated that admittedly less intimidating version of Dwight. So it wasn't crazy to think he would do a good job this time around. For the Spurs to have a shot, he'd have to. Unfortunately, it was clear that wasn't going to happen when he committed a foul on the first play of the game. Baynes' best asset is his physicality, which vanished once foul trouble became a possibility. And as a result, Howard dominated.
The Rockets were attacking the paint, knowing that there were no rim protectors, and finding Howard with lobs or drop offs once the big stepped out to contain the drive. The Spurs, meanwhile, had to settle for outside shots to start because they had no inside presence and Howard was patrolling the paint. As a result of that poor shot selection, they started the game 0-11. Those early struggles scoring the ball caused over-passing, which eventually resulted in shot clock violations or last second heaves. The offense looked completely out of sync.
And yet for a while in the first half the Spurs hung around thanks to their defense. The Rockets offense can be a bit predictable and with James Harden struggling with turnovers, it lost its punch. When the ball didn't go inside, the Spurs did a good job of rotating and getting a hand up. With Howard resting, the Spurs even improved a bit offensively, spearheaded by Cory Joseph. But hope only lasted about a quarter and a half. Once Howard returned, the Rockets pulled away with lob after lob. James Harden and Jason Terry joined in on the fun and after two, Houston led by 16.
Now, that's usually not an insurmountable deficit at the break. But considering the Spurs only scored 29 in the entire first half, it might as well have been a 30-point lead. Everyone knew it was over.
The second half was basically garbage time. It took the Rockets very little time to extend their lead. Tony Parker tried to step up after an awful first half but it was obviously not enough to turn the tide. So we were treated to an entire quarter of spectacular Rocket highlights and frustrating Spurs play. Harden and Howard made no secret of the fact that they were enjoying themselves as they continued to run up the score. Finally, Kevin McHale decided to magnanimously pull his starters with nine minutes to go in the fourth.
The final score was Rockets 98, Spurs 81 but it doesn't really reflect how lopsided the game was.
How did Kyle Anderson look in his debut?
Anderson: four points (1-8 from the field), eight rebounds, four assists and two steals.
What I'm looking for when watching Anderson is whether he looks like he belongs or not. We know that he has a quirky skillset and limited physical tools. So there is some potential for embarrassing moments as he tries to do something he has no business doing or gets exposed by more physically gifted players. During preseason that didn't happened. And in this game, he looked like someone who is closer to giving a team some good minutes off the bench than I originally thought.
The first thing that he needs to address before he gets there is his outside shot. The Rockets were aggressively playing off of him, daring him to shoot. To his credit, he pulled the trigger. But he couldn't connect and that strangled the Spurs' spacing. He shot well in his last year of college but he wasn't a prolific marksman and that surely is something that opponents will be aware of.
Having said that, he showed that he can attack closeouts. I doubt he will be able to take most good NBA defenders off the dribble but if he can drive past them when they are on the move, he could be of value in a system like the Spurs', in which getting the defense moving and out of position is vital. Former Rocket Chandler Parsons is a guy Anderson should emulate in that area.
Defensively he looked fine. He's never going to be a lock down guy but he closed out well and used his long arms to contain quicker players. We knew he was a good rebounder coming out of college and that usually translates. And his court vision and passing are as good as advertised.
It was a strange debut for Anderson due to the circumstances but I think it went well. As soon as his jumper becomes reliable, he will be a rotation player in the league.
- Aron Baynes was utterly destroyed by Dwight Howard. But that's fine. It's Dwight Howard! The guy was the consensus best big in the league two years ago and is healthy again. So it's not surprising that he would dominate a back up center. When he wasn't matched up against Howard, Baynes did well. And for short stints he held his own against Dwight, drawing a couple of fouls and going at him on the other end. Unfortunately, Bangers keeps making the same mistakes and that keeps holding him back as a player. But even if his Dwight stopper reputation has disappeared, he's still valuable as a deep bench guy.
- Cory Joseph was in attack mode, going to the rim early and often. Just like Anderson, the Rockets were ignoring him off the ball. But when he had the rock, he usually knew what to do with it. Joseph was the best Spur in this one.
- Tony Parker, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard went a combined 8-32 from the field. It was one of those games. Danny and Kawhi missed multiple open shots and Parker wasn't sharp or aggressive. It was a back-to-back, so I'm not worried. In fact, had Mills been healthy, Parker probably wouldn't have suited up.
- At one point in the fourth quarter, the Spurs trotted out a lineup consisting of Anderson-Daye-Bonner-Ayres-Baynes. So yeah, not a lot to really take away from a game like this one.
- I didn't like that the Rockets kept their starters in for as long as they did when I was watching the game. But they were without two starters of their own, so their rotation was shortened. And they probably wanted to give the home crowd a show. I can't fault them for that even if some of the celebrating seemed excessive.
The Rockets continue to have a perfect record while the Spurs fall to 2-2. The good guys will now go on a stretch of five games in eight nights starting this Saturday in San Antonio against Anthony Davis' Pelicans. Hopefully everyone but Patty will be back by then and the team will get a chance to find its rhythm on offense.
For the opponent's perspective, visit our friends over at The Dream Shake