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San Antonio vs. Houston, Final Score: Rockets blow out Spurs in Game 1, 126-99

The best of the Rockets vs. the worst of the Spurs delivered predictable results.

NBA: Playoffs-Houston Rockets at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the second round series against the Rockets, the Spurs knew they had to do two things: defend the arc and score enough to keep up with Houston’s manic offense. They did neither of those things, particularly in the first half, and the result was one of the worst playoff games of the Gregg Popovich era.

Game Flow

The Spurs started the game looking timid, and as shots rolled out for them, the Rockets executed on offense with ease to gain an early 15-6 advantage. Threes continued to fall in for Houston, even on broken plays, while Kawhi Leonard was the only Spur who could get anything to fall on offense. Finally back-to-back threes by Patty Mills and Leonard got the Spurs back within single digits after being down by as many as 15, but Houston responded with a mini 6-2 run in the final minute to get the lead back to 34-23 at the end of the first quarter.

Lou Williams hit a three off a Spurs turnover to start the second quarter, and that pretty much summed up the entire period for the Spurs. It kicked off a 24-6 Rockets run to get the lead as high as 28 early, and the Spurs rarely got much closer. On the rare occasion that Houston did miss, the result was usually either an offensive rebound or loose ball foul, and on the other end the Spurs couldn’t execute anything.

Manu Ginobili finally had a four-point play with just over five minutes left, but that was about the only positive play of the quarter. Even if the Spurs could get the ball to the rim without getting stripped first, simple bunnies rolled out. Turnovers continued to plague San Antonio, and the Rockets took full advantage and a 69-39 lead into the half. In all, the Spurs only hit 14-44 (32.6%) from the field overall in the half, while the Rockets were 12-27 (44.4%) from above the arc alone.

The Spurs actually started the third quarter with some semblance of effort on defense but still nothing to show for it on offense. Their first points of the quarter was a Tony Parker three, followed by another from Leonard to cut the deficit to a mere 28 at 73-45, prompting a surprisingly angry timeout from Mike D’Antoni four minutes in. The Rockets responded with a 7-0, and the second half returned to being extended garbage time...not that it ever wasn’t. The Rockets still led 96-67 at the end of the quarter. There was an altercation after the buzzer with Dewanye Dedmon and James Harden butting heads, earning both a technical, and Nene was ejected for grabbing Dedmon’s neck.

Both coaches finally emptied their benches for good to start the fourth quarter, and the Spurs third unit was no better. Dedmon got himself ejected with an unnecessary second technical. The game finally came to a merciful end and a Rockets 126-99 victory for the Spurs largest Game 1 loss under Pop.

Random Thoughts

  • Before the game, Charles Barkley “apologized” to the women of San Antonio for his tasteless jokes over the years...because he had churros the night before and liked them. I’m sure you did, Chuck, but seriously this got old like five years ago.
  • It took less than three minutes for Harden to draw his first foul from beyond the arc, and after that the Spurs played like they were afraid to defend the three no matter who was shooting.
  • There’s no way to be completely sure, but it felt like the majority of the Spurs 15 turnovers were them getting stripped or having butter fingers while driving in the paint. If the Spurs aren’t hitting shots from outside, they’re going to have to find a way to hold onto the ball down low (and score, for that matter) if they stand any chance of keeping up with D’Antoni’s offense.
  • Pop desperately searched for any combination that would work in the first half, but that never included Dedmon until the game was well out of hand late in the third quarter. If the Rockets weren’t hitting threes, they were predictably pick-and-rolling the Spurs defense to death or getting to offensive rebounds, so theoretically Dedmon’s length could have at least helped with that.
  • Of course the question now is did Dedmon end any chance he had to prove he belonged on the court in this series by getting himself ejected with two garbage time technicals, the second one by letting Patrick Beverley of all people get into his head? Some might call it passion, but that’s only if it was helpful, and in this case it wasn’t.
  • Speaking of which, the last Spur to be ejected from a playoff game was Robert Horry in 2007 against...drum roll...D’Antoni’s Suns.
  • If there is any silver lining to this game, it’s that the Spurs can’t be any worse (especially in the first half), and the Rockets can’t be much better and likely won’t have it so easy again.
  • The Spurs have won six series under Pop after losing Game 1 (the last time was in 2010 vs. the Mavericks). Five of those series the Spurs won Games 2 and 3, and once (against the Hornets in 2008) they came back from 0-2 by winning Games 3 and 4, which were at home. It’s not over by any stretch of the imagination, but a lot of things will need to change in a hurry if the Spurs want to go any deeper in the playoffs.

The Spurs return to the AT&T Center for Game 2 on Wednesday for an 8:30 tip-off and attempt to get this series back on track.