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What we learned from the Spurs win over the Rockets

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The Spurs were not soft in this one, scratching and clawing their way to a win against a struggling Rockets team.

NBA: Houston Rockets at San Antonio Spurs John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs put away the Houston Rockets at home in a game that wasn’t always pretty, but got the job done nonetheless. My biggest takeaway from this game didn’t come from the Spurs. The Rockets have lost a lot of their mojo. Maybe it will come back, but this version of their squad doesn’t feel like a true contender.

The Spurs used DeMar DeRozan to attack James Harden on defense on several occasions early in the game. DeRozan scored twice using this approach, but the Spurs curiously went away from this strategy the rest of the game. DeRozan only took twelve shots in this contest, down from the 20 per game he had taken in the previous ten games. Even without a huge offensive game, he still provided eleven rebounds and three assists in 39 minutes. His minutes continue to be far too high for my liking. I thought Derrick White might help reduce DeRozan’s minutes, but that has yet to be the case. White’s presence has at least reduced the load on DeRozan’s shoulders, which should help in the long run.

Technically, this was White’s second game of the season, but this game was definitely his coming out party. He seems to be the true PG the Spurs have needed since Tony Parker’s game began to deteriorate. Not only did he dish out eight assists, he did a great job cutting off passing lanes in defense and had the intestinal fortitude to hit a clutch three pointer late in the game to put away the Rockets for good. His ability to contribute in multiple ways is going to be fun to watch over the years, especially if his game continues to improve the way it has over the past twelve months.

The Spurs go on the road to play a surprising Sacramento Kings squad on Monday night. This starts a three game road trip before squaring off against the Golden State Warriors at home on Sunday.

Takeaways:

  • The Rockets are in trouble, and I don’t just mean this season. The Rockets are the oldest team in the NBA, and outside of Clint Capela, don’t really have any promising young prospects to build towards the future. Their window is now, and I don’t think they are good enough. That’s probably why the Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey was willing to sacrifice four future first round draft picks in a failed attempt to acquire Jimmy Butler from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Chris Paul is starting to look like old Chris Paul, not the Chris Paul of old, and he will be paid roughly $40 million a year for the next four years. I would be very nervous if I were a fan of the Rockets.
  • The Spurs came into the game first in the NBA in turnovers, at only twelve a game. The Spurs equaled that number in the first half versus the Rockets, which kept the Rockets in the game even though they couldn’t seem to hit a shot. Thankfully, the Spurs tightened it up in the second half, turning it over three times and finishing the game with a respectable 15 turnovers.
  • The Spurs hit one more three pointer (10) in 20 attempts than the Rockets did in 41 attempts. Yikes. The Spurs continue their long history (last year not withstanding) of taking a small number of three point attempts, but making them at a highly efficient clip.
  • Once the bench unit came in for the Spurs in the first quarter, the Spurs went five minutes without a basket, allowing the Rockets to turn a nine point deficit into a two point lead. The duo of Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli doesn’t seem to be a winning combination right now. They have played 194 minutes together this season - the sixth most-used two-man lineup for the Spurs - and have the worst net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating) of all two-man lineups that have played at least 125 minutes. Saturday night, Mills and Belinelli played 18 minutes together and had a horrible net rating of -46.1. It should be noted that during the 2013-2014 championship season, Mills and Belinelli played together for 924 minutes and had an excellent net rating of +11.4. I think a lot of this had to do with having a playmaker in Manu Ginobili. Without a playmaker in the second unit, these two sharpshooters are having trouble getting shots in their comfort zones. White appears to be the playmaker needed in the second unit, but with the injury to Dejounte Murray, White will likely end up playing the majority of his minutes with the starting unit. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the course of the season.
  • During the game telecast, FSSW showed Aldridge’s scoring difference in wins versus losses this season. Sean Elliott mentioned that it might have to do with Aldridge settling for long shots as opposed to bullying his way inside. I looked at the numbers, and that’s actually not the case. Whether in wins, losses, home, or away, Aldridge’s shot distribution has remained relatively steady. Aldridge has mostly been struggling offensively this season, especially from the short/mid range locations. It was nice to see him contribute in a positive way against Houston.
  • The final score would indicate the Spurs had an excellent defensive effort. While it was certainly better than we’ve seen in previous games, the Rockets missed a lot of open shots. Before tonight’s game, the Rockets had averaged 44.2 open (nearest defender 4-6 feet away) or wide open (nearest defender >6 feet away) shots per game. The Rockets had 47 of these shots versus the Spurs, slightly above their season average. Fortunately for the Spurs, the Rockets made only 12 of them; just over 25%.
  • The Spurs came into this game first in personal fouls at only 19.4 per game. While it felt the Spurs were fouling the entire game, they ended up with only 20 fouls. The difference was the majority of those fouls were of the shooting variety, leading to 20 makes on 29 free throw attempts. The good news is the Spurs ended up going 20 for 27 on their own end. Any time the Spurs are able to draw even from the free throw line against the Rockets, it should be considered a major win.
  • The Spurs were without Pau Gasol, Rudy Gay, and Jakob Poeltl. The absence of Poeltl and Gasol gave Chimezie Metu some extended minutes, but his zero points and four turnovers in twelve minutes left a lot to be desired. He has the tools to be a solid role player, but it doesn’t seem he’s ready to contribute just yet.