It's just a day on the calendar, no more or less significant than another, but because humans are inherently flawed sentimental simpletons, we attach symbolism to the start of a new year. Resolutions to get in better shape, to work harder, to be more attentive to family and friends and to kick bad habits are made time and again, with sincere pledges that this time, honest, we mean it, for serious.
(And then a week later we're calling in sick for work while eating Dorito's on the couch, watching "Armageddon" on cable for the 189th time and sending calls from grandma straight to voicemail.)
The point is there is absolutely no logical reason whatsoever that San Antonio's first game of 2016 would be the one where Danny Green broke out of his season-long shooting slump that had him making just 30.1 percent of his threes overall and a chilly 26.8 percent of them in December. Yet Green joked with reporters a couple days ago that his New Year's resolution was to "make some more shots" and well, like all those earnest folks out there who hit the gym in early January, he's followed through on his vow at least in his first opportunity.
Who knows if following through was the problem in the first place, or not bending his knees enough or any one of a hundred mechanical, psychological, systemic or bio-rhythmic things that I'm not going to pretend to be smart enough to analyze. All I know is Green tied his season-high with his fourth three-pointer of the game midway through the first quarter against the Rox and added two more for good measure. He shot them from both sides of the floor, from the corners and from the wings, and all six were open (ish) and all six were assisted.
A mindset of having the clean slate and the fresh start of a new year probably helped, but having the Rockets as an opponent didn't hurt either. Houston was miserable defensively in every facet of the game, whether it was interior defense, perimeter rotations, close-outs or getting back in transition. Basically, they were the shambolic club they've been all season long, and tonight's romp only further illustrated what an anomaly the Christmas loss at Houston where the Spurs only managed 84 points was.
The Rockets have taken to starting a "twin-towers lineup" of late under J.B. Bickerstaff, with Dwight Howard playing alongside athletic youngster Clint Capela and while Houston have been challenged to score with that duo, they gave the Spurs a lot of problems defensively in the first meeting, producing a 31-28 edge in 20:46. That works out to a 75-68 loss over 48 minutes. San Antonio didn't do much better when stretch-four Terrence Jones was out there, but at least they were able to score, with Houston having a 50-46 edge in 22:05.
Things started similarly in the rematch. Green hit an immediate corner triple but then nothing for the home side. Again the Howard/Capela combination were snuffing them inside and it was 12-3 Rockets at the outset. Curiously, Bickerstaff subbed in Jones for Capela 4:36 into the game, and almost instantly Green hit three more bombs and the Spurs were back in it.
"It felt pretty good to knock some shots... to see the ball go in for me," a relieved Green said afterward. "Unluckily for us everybody else wasn't hitting any in the beginning, usually it's the other way around, everybody else is hitting shots and I'm missing some."
The Spurs scored at will with Jones in the lineup and he finished a game-worst -36 in 26:32. The first-half was an offensive free-for-all, with both teams shooting over 50 percent, moving the ball with pace and playing clean, with a combined 31 assists to just 11 turnovers. Green and other Spurs lost track of James Harden a number of times in all the up-and-down action and he led everyone with 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting at intermission, with the Spurs up 60-55. "The Big Three" had two points on 0-of-9 shooting combined while the rest of the Spurs accounted for 58 on 23-of-37, including 8-of-15 threes.
San Antonio broke the game open in the third quarter, as they have all season. As well as they played offensively in the first half, they bettered it, shooting 70.6 percent from the field, canning all three of their attempts from downtown and all nine from the charity stripe en route to 36 points while limiting the Rockets to 17. The critical difference was they finally solved Capela too, in addition to Jones. Instead of being stymied by the second-year man's lateral quickness on the pick-and-roll, LaMarcus Aldridge and Boris Diaw just took it right at him in the post, repeatedly taking advantage of his narrow frame and inclination to bite on pump-fakes. Diaw scored eight of his season-high 20 in the third quarter, Aldridge had 11 in the period and Manu Ginobili scored all eight of his points consecutively in a 1:45 stretch to turn the game into a rout.
Aldridge has never been better in Spurs colors, shooting well outside and repeatedly abusing Howard's laziness and Capela's inexperience
but it was Diaw who truly tormented Houston scoring easily inside and nailing two open threes.As good as Green was, he was left feeling envious by how effortless the rotund Frenchman makes the game look, and he revealed he's not the only one.
"I wish I could do what Boris does," said Green. "He makes it look very easy. LaMarcus calls him "tea-time" because he looks like he is out there taking his time drinking tea."
Actually, Bobo prefers cappuccinos or a nice glass of red to tea, but lot of Spurs have been making it look easy of late, with Kawhi Leonard's 22 points serving almost as a footnote, Tony Parker finding people for 10 assists even though he went 0-for-6 from the field and David West knocking down 5-of-6 shots himself. The only sour note, if you want to even label it as such, was that Tim Duncan went scoreless for the first time in his career in 13:45 of work in his return after missing three games with a sore right knee. He only took three shots. That the Spurs scored a season-high 121 with he, Parker and Ginobili combining for ten is probably a good indicator as any of how the team's been performing.
Like, seriously, this was Leonard tonight and he's not one of tonight's three stars.
If Green's going to join the party too, then 2016 just might work out pretty well for these guys.
Your Three Stars:
1. LaMarcus Aldridge
2. Danny Green
3. Boris Diaw
Up Next: @Milwaukee Bucks (14-21)
The Spurs take the show on the road for a one-game pit-stop in frigid Milwaukee. Wisconsin doesn't sound appealing at all this time of year, but at least the Bucks have been a bit warmer of late, having won two in a row, including most recently Saturday night at Minnesota, where they overcame a ten-point deficit after the first quarter. The Bucks have been one of the league's most disappointing squads overall, but their claim to fame was handing the Warriors their first loss of the season after a 24-0 start. Milwaukee led most of the way in the return engagement at Oakland a few nights later too before yielding late, but Greg Monroe and Giannis Antetokounmpo were monsters both games against the Dubs. (Hmm, you know any other clubs with an imposing post scorer and a rangy small-forward?) The Bucks were slightly less competitive at the AT&T Center against the Spurs on Dec. 2, hitting just a third of their shots in a 95-70 loss, and somebody named "Tim Duncan" led San Antonio with 16 points and 10 boards in that one.