At the start of yet another FIGASENI, the Spurs found themselves headed to Houston against the hottest team in the league. The Rockets lead the league with a 22-4 record and haven’t lost a game since Chris Paul returned from an opening night injury. The team the Spurs ousted in embarrassing fashion from the playoffs last season looked like it was out for revenge, while a Spurs offense that has been AWOL since last weekend remained missing-in-action until garbage time.
The Spurs used their size advantage early on the offensive glass to keep up with the Rockets’ three-point shooting, but they couldn’t keep them off the free throw line. Tony Parker and Bryn Forbes both committed touch fouls on Harden beyond the arc in the first quarter, and the Rockets had a 12-1 edge from the line on their way to a 31-16 lead heading into the second quarter. That clearly wasn’t enough to satisfy Mike D’Antoni considering he spent both timeouts in the first quarter berating the officials over nonexistent calls.
The Rockets continued to get points at will in the second quarter, getting the lead as high as 28, and it looked like the Spurs would be down by 30 or more headed into halftime. However, thanks to some vintage Kawhi Leonard and a few threes finally falling, the Spurs closed the second quarter on a 14-5 run, which doesn’t sound like much but was huge in this game considering their poor first half performance, and it felt odd to “only” be down 60-43 after 24 minutes.
The assistant coaches said the Spurs had more pep and were determined to play better coming out of the half, but that was not the case. The Rockets hit six of their first seven shots to get right back up by 26, and any marginal improvement the Spurs showed on offense was completely wiped out by porous defense.
Pop finally waived the flag went to his bench for good midway through the third quarter to keep his guys fresh for tomorrow’s game against Dallas (although Parker and Leonard will still sit out for “injury management”), and while the third string put up an admirable fight, it wasn’t enough to dig their team out of the deep hole the main rotation had built.
The Rockets eventually won 124-109, led by 28 points, 8 assists and 7 steals from Paul. They say payback’s a you-know-what, and that’s what tonight was. The Spurs won’t face the Rockets again until February, and by then the team should be comfortable with Leonard in the line-up again and not on a minutes restriction. If that is the case, revenge-payback could be in order.
Man of the Match
Kawhi Leonard - 12 points on 5-9 shooting, 4 reb, 2 steals, 2 blocks in 17 min
No one was overly impressive tonight, but outside of garbage time Leonard was without a doubt the Spurs’ best player. He shot efficiently and is slowly rounding into form. He’s not moving fast and is still a step slow on defensive rotations, but that will come back in time. Oh, and there’s also this:
today is Kawhi's 400th career game.— Paul Castro (@paulcastroNBA) December 16, 2017
Regardless of if we win tonight, he will be the winningest player through 400 games in NBA history.@spurs
What I liked
The third string’s performance in the fourth quarter. Even though D’Antoni kept his starters in the game until the three-minute mark, guys like Davis Bertans, Joffrey Lauvergne, Brandon Paul and Forbes played with intensity that no starter besides Leonard came close to matching. They even got within 14 midway through the fourth (which probably played a slight role in D’Antoni waiting so long to empty his bench).
What I didn’t like
Basically everything about the Spurs performance, so let’s go with something else. Even in a blowout, even when they’ve doubled up their opponent on free throws, the Rockets still blow a gasket when a foul is called against them. D’Antoni, CP3, James Harden, the fans...they are so spoiled by their own free throws that they can’t handle anything going against them. Not even a legit call (or no-call).
- After all the talk of the league trying to eliminate or at least minimize five games in seven nights, how is it that the Spurs have two sets of them in less than three weeks?
- Am I the only one who’s sick of seeing the Spurs wear white on the road? I know the home team has the say on what color they wear, and Houston has this “Blackout Friday” thing going, but this is getting ridiculous.
- Kawhi looks like a very effective Slow Mo out there. I know he still needs to get in game shape, but a healthy Kyle Anderson might be a tad quicker right now.
- I could only laugh when a Pau Gasol dunk was waived off early in the second quarter for an offensive three-seconds violation. The Rockets were up by 15, and if the Spurs were going to get back into the game, this was the time. Gasol stared at the ref with a “why you gotta do me like that?” look, the official shrugged like he knew he was just being cruel at that point, and that was the end of any momentum the Spurs may have gained considering the Rockets responded with another three. It was a costly five-point swing.
- Somewhere I recently read an article complaining about D’Antoni being a poor sport because he plays his starters too long in blowouts. Personally that doesn’t bother me since it’s his right to play whoever he wants, and everyone knows he wanted some revenge tonight. However, he does it at his own risk since unnecessary minutes can increase risk of injury, and considering he’s a coach known for only playing a seven or eight-player rotation in the playoffs, it will come back to him in time, just like in Game 6.
For the Rockets fans’ perspective, visit The Dream Shake.
The Spurs return to the AT&T Center tomorrow to take on the Dallas Mavericks for the fourth and final time.