San Antonio held Houston to season-lows in field-goal percentage (33.8%), three-pointers made (seven, on 31 attempts), and assists (12), limiting the league’s best offense to just 83 points, also its worst output of 2017-18.
Some aspects of the Rockets’ dismal performance can be considered outliers — and Chris Paul’s absence (he sat out another game with a sore left leg) must be noted — but there’s also reason to think the Spurs’ own brand of basketball gravity makes them a foil against the number-one team in the league. Much of that was on display in Sunday’s win.
It begins on the defensive end, where the same formula that trumped the Rockets’ dynamic attack in May of last year was put into action again. The Spurs switched nearly every James Harden pick and roll, were disciplined in chasing Rockets shooters off the three-point line, and funneled ball-handlers into contested looks in the paint. On the other end, they attacked Harden regularly, both off the dribble and on switches in the post against LaMarcus Aldridge, doing whatever they could to tire the MVP front-runner, while dragging the game down to a glacial pace of 89.8. Harden still got his 25 and 8, but it took him 19 shot attempts and came with five turnovers, the product of terrific defense from guys like Danny Green and Kyle Anderson.
Aldridge was his usual workhorse self, leading the team with 23 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks, but he got help this time. Rudy Gay shared some of the load by assuming go-to duties and scoring 21 points on a tidy 9-of-13 shooting. Just like Julian Gill said a week ago, Gay is the Spurs’ best chance to raise their ceiling by pairing an elite defense with a bona fide, two-headed attack. That version of the Spurs is one that no team in the postseason should want to see.
Gregg Popovich loves reminding reporters that he’s not worried about Gay’s ability to get buckets, but that there is another, more-well-rounded level to his game that he’s still waiting to see:
“He’s done a good job scoring for us all year and he’s starting to figure out how to rebound for us a little bit and play some D and figure out the system, so he did well.”
Gay provided the highlight of the day, courtesy of that two-way potential Pop is hoping to see more of, as he erased an Eric Gordon shot attempt on one end and skied for the slam on the other.
A year removed from a devastating Achillles injury, Gay’s bounce has come and gone in his first season in San Antonio. A couple of months back, you might have seen him elevating for what everyone in the building (including Gay) believed to be a customary dunk, only for him to come up short and need to readjust in the final split-second. Sights like the above are welcome, as the team on the whole looks to also hit a new level heading into the postseason.
A few more game notes...
It was a good night for fans of the Euro step
Dejounte showed that there are aspects of his game that are beyond his years, hitting Houston with a pair of Euro moves in the early going. Here’s one:
That was followed a little while later by Kyle Anderson, who slowed things down against Eric Gordon to get the easy finish.
Keep up the LaMarcus Aldridge Hype Machine
If the Spurs hold onto fourth place in the West, there better be an All-NBA spot waiting for Aldridge, who’s been the best player on the floor for either team nearly every game since mid-March. Here are his numbers over the last 10 games: 28.8 points on 56.9% shooting, 9.0 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, and a +16.4 net rating.
Some love for the unsung heroes
14 points on 5-of-9 shooting to go with five rebounds and four assists (and zero turnovers). Tied for a game-high +20 plus/minus. Despite some shaky execution on a couple of fast breaks in the first half, it was a good night for the oft-criticized Patty Mills.
Anderson also contributed in his own understated way, with Pop noting his impact went well beyond his humble line of 5 points, 5 rebounds, a block and two steals:
“Kyle Anderson was the star. He did a great job on the future Hall of Famer in James. Kyle deserves a lot of credit.”
Slow Mo is currently second in the league among all small forwards in ESPN’s Defensive RPM.
With the one seed locked up and in a game that appeared to be wrapped up with time to spare, James Harden was still on the floor, battling it out on the post against Aldridge and looking to drive all the way to the rim on the other. He played 36 minutes total, finally exiting with less than two minutes left. I don’t know if D’Antoni legitimately thought the game was winnable or if this was more about allowing Harden to keep up his MVP-caliber numbers, but either way I wouldn’t like it if I was a Rockets fan.
Where they stand