Whatever the opposite of undefeated is, that’s what the Spurs are on the second game of back-to-backs. The Spurs played a solid game for most of the first half, but they came out of the locker room in a coma and fell behind by a huge margin as the Rockets turned offensive rebounds into second chances and easy points. The Spurs fought their way back into the game late, taking the lead with three minutes left on a gutsy three-point shot from Rudy Gay. But they couldn’t secure the rebounds, and the Rockets took over in the last three minutes, finishing out the game on a 12-5 run and winning 108-101.
P.J. Tucker opened the game with a corner three to put the Rockets up. The Rockets concentrated on shooting the long ball and the paint, and the Mid 3 hitting the efficient twos from the midrange. The two opposing strategies were almost equally effective as the Spurs led 18-17 halfway through the quarter. The Rockets’ offense mostly consisted of Harden pounding the ball until the clock ran down, and then either taking a shot or dealing the ball to another player on the perimeter. As annoying as that was to watch, it often resulted in open shots or a foul, so it was effective enough. The Rockets led 28-26 after one with Danuel House’s driving dunk and Gerald Green’s late three bouncing all around the rim and in to give them the lead.
Rudy Gay opened the second quarter with a pure three-point shot to give the Spurs the early lead. A Derrick White drive down the lane for a layup gave the Spurs a three point lead, and after Davis Bertans dribbled into an open three, the Spur led 34-28. The Spurs turned up the defense, with a spectacular Jakob Poeltl denial of Eric Gordon at the hoop as one of the highlights. Harden finally got a basket for the Rockets to bring them to within four of the Silver and Black, and Pop called a timeout with 6:44 left. Both teams were cold shooting, but the Spurs managed some impressive defense on Harden, and finally a deep three from Marco Belinelli put the Spurs ahead 41-34, finally getting them a little bit of breathing room. The Rockets ended the quarter on a mini-run, with Harden getting free throws and feeding Clint Capela for a dunk. The Spurs led 43-41 at the half.
Harden hit a corner triple to open the scoring in the second half, giving the Rockets the lead. Harden backed White to the basket, and then Tucker hit a three and before you knew it, the Rockets had a 53-43 lead, on a 16-0 scoring run, capped with a Capela dunk. Finally, the Spurs got on the board with a short range shot from LMA that rattled in. Rudy Gay helped the Spurs stay in it with his mid-range game, but Gerald Green and Eric Gordon got hot from outside to push the lead back to double digits for the Rox. Gerald Green continued to be red hot from outside, and after a buzzer beating three pointer from Gary Clark, the Rockets led 84-69 after three quarters.
The Spurs offense looked a little better to start the fourth, but they couldn’t get stops as the Rockets seemed to be on cruise control. Jakob Poeltl led a 6-0 Spurs run to cut the deficit to 10 with just under 9 left in the game. The Spurs looked like they had a chance to get back into the game, but the failure to secure rebounds kept giving the Rockets extra chances to make shots. After Harden shoved Derrick White out of the way on a drive to the basket for an obvious offensive call that wasn’t called, it was starting to look like the Spurs weren’t going to be able to get back in the game. The Spurs continued to fight, even if didn’t seem fair, and they cut the lead to 5 with five minutes left. Aldridge got free under the basket, and then a White jumper cut the Rockets lead to a pair. Rudy Gay’s triple from the corner completed the comeback with three minutes left and the Spurs led 97-96. It was short-lived, as Harden hit a step-back three to put the Rox ahead. DeMar DeRozan tied it up with a drive, but offensive rebounds gave the Rockets extra chances, and they cashed it in with an Eric Gordon three. The Rockets iced the game with a Harden three-point shot and three free throws after a Spurs miss, with a meaningless late Bryn Forbes basket making the margin 108-101 for Houston.
- Derrick White is a very good defender, with sneaky good hands, stripping the ball from Rocket ball handlers and causing turnovers without fouling. He did a great job on Harden, but when Harden can shove him out of the way without being called for a foul, it can make it a lot harder to defend.
- James Harden’s most elite offensive skill is his ability to draw fouls. He’s pretty good at a lot of things, but he has an almost hypnotic ability to get the refs to blow their whistles.
- The Rockets dominated the boards early on the offensive end, getting multiple attempts. It’s pointless to play great defense for 24 seconds and then just give the team another opportunity with an offensive rebound, so that’s something that Pop can use as a teaching moment.
- The first 6 minutes of the second quarter were very low-scoring, 8-4 Spurs, and it didn’t get a lot better for the rest of the period, as the Spurs outscored the Rockets in 12 minutes 17-13.
- The Rockets scored more points in the first three minutes of the third quarter than they did in the entire second, and got a total of 43 points in the third quarter.
- Whatever the Spurs do in the locker room at halftime, it’s really not working. They came out flat to start the third, and almost let the Rockets run them out of the building early in the quarter. The Spurs defense completely fell apart in the third, giving the Rockets everything they wanted.
It’s the season.
The Spurs will take a little break, with their next game on December 26 against the Western Conference leading Denver Nuggets. This will be the first time they’ve had consecutive days off since November, and they looked tonight like they needed it. Merry Christmas, I’ll see you in a few days, and as always, Go Spurs Go.