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Spurs play half a game, allow big comeback by the Rockets

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The Spurs played some of their best basketball of the season early but simply couldn’t sustain their level and lost a close game on the road.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockets got their revenge. After squandering a 22-point lead and losing in double overtime less than two weeks ago in San Antonio, they pulled off a 25-point comeback in the rematch to beat the Spurs 109-107.

Despite the game ending in defeat for the Silver and Black, it featured arguably their best half of the season. In the first two quarters the Spurs came as close as they possibly can to their ideal. The starters looked like a cohesive unit for once. The stars dominated early on offense, with LaMarcus Aldridge handling the scoring load and DeMar DeRozan doing the distributing; Dejounte Murray was everywhere on defense while Trey Lyles provided much-needed versatility on that end; Bryn Forbes, who came into Monday’s game on a shooting slump, knocked down five three-pointers with ease. It all worked.

Without the burden of having to make up for the starting lineup’s deficiencies the bench checked in and did enough to keep the offense going. Derrick White orchestrated things beautifully to kick off the second quarter and when the starting backcourt returned, they managed to extend the lead. Even the things the Spurs couldn’t control, like the result of some open looks by the Rockets’ shooters, went their way. Russell Westbrook kept Houston from fully getting past the point of no return while James Harden struggled, but despite his herculean effort San Antonio still led by 19 at the half. It was as good a start of the game as the Spurs could have hoped for.

Alas, the inevitable run by the Rockets came in the second half and the Spurs simply couldn’t hold on to get the win.

The signs that things had changed were there early. Harden kicked things off with a three-pointer in the first Rockets offensive trip of the third quarter and then joined Westbrook in challenging the Spurs interior defense. Meanwhile San Antonio couldn’t get Forbes open and Aldridge was struggling to bail out bad possessions as Houston tightened things up on defense. With no answers on offense and reeling on the other end against a much more aggressive Rockets’ attack, the Spurs started to look more like the flawed team we’ve seen recently instead of the surprising juggernaut that dominated the matchup earlier. Slowly but surely the lead started to shrink and another close game became inevitable.

To their credit, the Spurs didn’t fold, which was encouraging. Alas, the momentum has shifted too heavily in Houston’s favor, which made a DeMar DeRozan-led early fourth-quarter push feel futile even in real time. The Rockets regained the lead with five minutes to go and made threes while San Antonio could only muster two-pointers. The Spurs did have a chance to send the game to overtime on a Forbes long ball that danced on the rim before going out, but Houston made sure they didn’t get another opportunity. Harden hit his two free throws after they secured the board, Mike D’Antoni instructed his players to foul up three and that was it.

At this point it’s hard to distinguish bad losses from good ones, if those even exist anymore for the Spurs. There’s no shame in dropping a game to the Rockets on the road but it’s never good to do so on a night in which the lead reached 25. San Antonio had a real chance to string together wins and continue to make a push up the standings and squandered it.

Hopefully some lessons were learned that will prevent this type of collapse going forward, because these mercurial Spurs simply can’t afford to lose on the nights in which they actually play well.

Game notes

  • LaMarcus Aldridge had a great first half but struggled in the third quarter and only took three shots in the fourth. DeMar DeRozan did what he could to keep the Spurs in it with his scoring in the second half, but it wasn’t enough. The Rockets’ star duo combined for 59 points while the Spurs’ combined for 31. There’s not much else to say.
  • On a more positive note, we had a rare game in which both Dejounte Murray and Derrick White played well. Murray was an absolute terror on defense in the first half and finished with 16 points. White was not as disruptive as Murray while guarding the Rockets’ stars but did fine in his own way and scored an efficient 16 points while running the offense well. The two also shared the court for almost five minutes during crunch time, which is an exciting development.
  • Lonnie Walker IV only played 10 minutes, which was disappointing. He was a little out of control, but that is to be expected from a sophomore. Forbes was having a great game and it made sense to see if Marco Belinelli would heat up from outside and get the offense going (he wouldn’t), but at this point Walker should have a longer leash.
  • Jakob Poeltl also played just 10 minutes, but that’s more understandable considering the opponent. I still feel like 20 minutes for Trey Lyles were too many, but some of those should have gone to a wing like Walker or to Rudy Gay, who had a good game in just 21 minutes of action, instead of a big against the small-ball Rockets.
  • It was a good thing Forbes picked this game to break out of his slump, because Patty Mills had his worst performance in a while. Just four points on as many shots for the bala, who simply couldn’t get going on Monday.
  • Say what you want about D’Antoni, but that man is a killer regular season coach. Look at Houston’s roster. Danuel House is starting. Ben McLemore and Austin Rivers are their only semi reliable bench players. It’s crazy that they are 18-9 without Eric Gordon.

Next game: Vs. Nets on Thursday

The Spurs will be back home and will get a couple of days off before facing the Nets. It should be a tough but winnable game.