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San Antonio vs. Houston, Final Score: Rockets take wildly-entertaining revenge game, 109-107

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No overtimes were needed this evening in yet another close, but disappointing outcome for the Spurs

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets
A breakout shooting game for Bryn Forbes wasn’t enough for San Antonio to overcome the Rockets comeback
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockets mounted a furious comeback to overcome an early 25-point deficit and a 72-point first half by San Antonio. Houston was paced by James Harden (28 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists) and Russell Westbrook (31 points and 10 rebounds). LaMarcus Aldridge (19 points and 13 rebounds) and Bryn Forbes (18 points) led a balanced Spurs attack that was not able to withstand the Rockets’ late execution.

Observations

  • The Rockets came into the game having attempted 544 more three-pointers than the Spurs.
  • Nice moment early-on: a Dejounte Murray steal on a Clint Capela drive led to DeMar DeRozan tearing down the sideline and setting up Bryn Forbes for a pull-up three in transition. Murray and Harden began shoving and jawing after a Murray steal and layup to put San Antonio by 15, which resulted in a double-technical.
  • Derrick White has the best feel of the guards for finding teammates from most spots of the court. Walker nailed a cross-court pass in traffic to Rudy Gay for a corner-three. Gay returned the favor shortly after to find White for an open three. We can hope that Murray and even Lonnie Walker IV can catch him in terms of that playmaking floor vision. On the other hand, Murray looks very comfortable with his pull-up jumper in and around the paint.
  • Rudy Gay’s athletic decline seems most apparent on his drives and closing out on shooters at the other end.
  • Westbrook is a more impactful playmaker for Houston as the backup option (compared to Chris Paul in previous years) when Harden sits.
  • Rockets’ commentator Bill Worrell called Walker IV’s coiff a “pineapple haircut.” Not nice. Also not nice - both teams exchanged consecutive botched alley-oops in the second period.
  • If Marco Belinelli is not hitting shots...
  • Since I don’t like watching him play, here’s what The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor had to say in its ranking of the top 25 players of the season: “I also love watching James Harden play basketball, and it’s fine if you don’t. But it’s not fine when subjective feelings about style taint objective facts. Because Harden is objectively one of the most dominant scorers in NBA history. This will be Harden’s third consecutive season averaging at least 30 points—something only eight Hall of Famers and one future Hall of Famer (Kobe Bryant) have accomplished, per Basketball-Reference. And he’s doing it with great efficiency despite relying largely on himself: Harden is finishing 17.3 possessions per game using an isolation, per Synergy. Only Harden (three times), Kobe (four times), Carmelo Anthony (twice), and LeBron James (once) have logged at least 10 isolations per game in Synergy’s database, which goes back to the 2004-05 season. Of those players, Harden has the three most efficient seasons utilizing isolations. In other words, Harden is the game’s best scorer since Michael Jordan. Even if you don’t like the way it looks.”
  • Floppy Play: 1 - San Antonio ran it once in the third, which netted free throws for Trey Lyles.
  • One last comment on Mills’ game winning shot from Saturday evening, I’ve frequently seen Patty during warmups practice shooting immediately off the catch or dribbling up the court into a pull-up jumper. It’s also a good reminder that the coaches do indeed put the players in optimal positions (at least offensively) to succeed, and frankly, overcome shortcomings, such as being shorter (like Mills or Forbes) or having fewer moves in their repertoire (like Poeltl).
  • Another reminder of how great Pop is on ATO plays: Saturday’s closing sequence harkened to Mike Bibby’s big moment in the 2002 WCF against the Lakers, where Bibby inbounded the ball and was freed up by a Chris Webber pick and a Derek Fisher flop for the winner in game 5. Saturday night’s game winner resembled Bibby’s except Pop added in a few more wrinkles (DeRozan running into the paint as a distraction and White inbounding the ball and clearing out to the other side) to more easily free up Mills to get his shot up.
  • Not only have the Spurs played four straight overtime games for the first time in half a century, but for our Star Wars fanatics, none other than the New York Knicks have played the heel in four straight Star Wars-themed nights on their West Coast Road trip. That is a lot of Knicks shots going down the Sarlacc pit!
  • Spurs came out red-hot - hitting six of their first seven shots with all five starters scoring on a 16-0 run. Houston spent a number of possessions lamenting a lack of foul calls. San Antonio also kept Harden and his teammates off the free throw line to leave the period up 35-21. Forbes encouragingly nailed his first SIX three-pointers to extend the lead above 20. The first half in a snapshot for Harden: chasing two missed threes with a dribbled ball off his foot out of bounds. The only way the Rockets could stop Forbes was to get him to pick up his third foul, and the only thing preventing this from being a Spurs wipeout of their rivals was Westbrook’s 25 points.
  • Not surprisingly, Harden came to life with two threes bookending the halves, and Houston launched an 11-2 run to start the third. The Rockets staged Westbrook crosscourt from Harden as he initiated his drives, and Harden successfuly fed his teammate out of double teams with a running start to the basket. Late in the quarter, the referees figured prominently, as a late loose-ball foul initially called on Houston’s Gary Clark was overturned by a Mike D’Antoni challenge and netted them an extra point. Then Clark horse-collared Jakob Poeltl on an obvious loose ball foul, but ended up in a jumpball and rushed Mills miss. San Antonio was very fortunate to leave an ice-cold shooting period up 89-83.
  • DeRozan stabilized San Antonio in a frantic and tense opening minutes in the fourth with three consecutive jumpers while White executed a nifty spin move in the paint to net a lay-up. Houston repeatedly scored easily on the other hand to apply increasing pressure. Harden finally tied up the game with a stepback three and the Rockets surged ahead by four. White paired a momentum-stopping corner three with a stop of a Harden drive to get a shot-clock violation. White and Murray shared crunch time together, but it was not enough to stop an onslaught of late Rocket threes. A Gay drive closed the gap again to one. On the final possessions, Harden attempted a flop on a missed three. The Spurs attempted to catch Houston napping on transition, but Forbes’ corner three went exasperatingly in-and-out. Harden hit his ensuing free throws to extend to 106-109. Forbes came up well short on a game-tying three, but Capela fumbled the carom out of bounds. Houston fouled White instead of giving up a long-distance attempt, but the team wasn’t able to recover the second free throw and the Rockets prevailed.

For the Rockets fan’s perspective, head over to the Dream Shake.

The Spurs head home to face Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, and the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night at 7:30 PM CDT.