The Spurs, who had secured home court advantage throughout the playoffs with a win against the Suns, rested Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Patty Mills and Tiago Splitter on their trip to Houston. The Rockets, meanwhile, had their full squad ready to play after injuries to Howard and Beverly. The Spurs hung around but ultimately lost. The final result is meaningless but the game did reveal some interesting things.
This first play shows why Manu Ginobili is important to the Spurs. Parker forces the defense to collapse and kicks it out. But Chandler Parsons closes out in time and makes Manu put the ball on the floor. Manu drives and forces the defense to switch once again. And that's when the Rockets' defense breaks down.
Of course, we need to credit James Harden. The Rockets stayed in the play until Harden decided to go for the steal on the pass to Parker instead of staying with Diaw. That forces Jones to leave his man and rotate to Diaw. Compounding problems, Jones just stares at the ball instead of getting back to his assignment, leaving Howard to defend two players.
I don't have the numbers here but I'm sure the Spurs have attempted more alley oops this season than the past two combined, so who is boring now, Deadspin?
The set starts as a garden-variety Motion Weak play designed to get Duncan a post-up. But Howard knows what's coming and, to avoid getting caught in a Diaw screen, decides to go over the pick to prevent the entry pass. That's when Duncan moves towards the basket instead of the opposite block and dunks the perfect Parker pass. The Spurs are tricky and have a ton of counters for the times when the opponent decides to defend the play instead of the action.
This next play is so, so pretty. There has been some understandable concerns about Tony Parker's play this season. But this simple sequence shows just how dangerous he can be when he is rested and focused.
After a perfect Duncan screen, Parker drives on Dwight Howard. I honestly have no idea what Howard is doing there. He doesn't hedge, he doesn't drop back enough and he reaches in. I'm assuming he was anticipating a jumper or a floater. But Parker puts him to sleep with a beautiful hesitation move and drives all the way. The Spurs need to remember to drive to the basket as often as possible if they meet the Rockets in the post-season.
The first version of this GIF only included Manu's drive but I just couldn't leave out what happens before because it sets up the whole thing. Francisco Garcia for some strage reason asks for a switch on Damion James, who was playing small forward. I like to think he had no idea who James was and assumed he was a big. Manu sees that glaring mistake and quickly passes to James to force the defense to commit. So now Asik is on James and desperately asking for another switch.
That's when Manu calls for the screen -- because the guy has one of the highest basketball I.Q.s I've ever seen. After James screens, all Manu has to do is drive past Asik and finish over Garcia, who did pretty much everything wrong on this play
This is just an extended pick-and-roll play the Spurs love to run. An extended pick-and-roll involves a third man to make the actual pass to the dive man, taking advantage of a better angle.
Here Baynes sets the screen for Belinelli and dives to the basket. Donatas Motiejunas has to bump him as he waits Asik to recover. But Diaw has stepped outside to catch the pass after the pick and he attacks before Asik can get back to his man. Motiejunas has to abandon Baynes, who is left completely open under the rim. He receives the pass and finishes with a dunk.
Finally, we have a play we are used to seeing Duncan and Parker run: the quick give-and-go on the vacated site of the court. The Spurs have a great deal of success with this play against lazy defenders and Harden definitely fits that description.
Harden gives a token effort, chasing Joseph by going under the first screen. But he gives up on the play as soon as he sees the give-and-go coming. Making matters worse, Motiejunas is slow to rotate and arrives just in time to foul and give the Spurs the And-1. Diaw has to get credit for placing the ball just where Joseph wanted it, showing off his excellent passing skills.
So there you have it. It was a loss but one that allowed the Spurs to show that they can execute no matter who is on the floor while highlighting some of the defensive problems that make the Rockets' ceiling so hard to project. As Chris would say, this team is so easy to root for.