Mason Jones and Ben McLemore shot out of the gate and staked themselves into an early advantage, and the Rockets held off the Spurs for most of the first three quarters. But DeMar DeRozan stabilized San Antonio, and the team showed some defensive intensity in the fourth quarter which, along with some timely scoring by Dejounte Murray, made the difference despite a forgettable offensive shooting effort.
Christian Wood continued his All-Star level production against the Spurs frontline by netting 24 points and 18 rebounds with solid contributions from Jones (24 points and 5 assists) and McLemore (21 points). Most of San Antonio’s production came from DeMar DeRozan (24 points and 7 rebounds) and Dejounte Murray (18 points and 10 rebounds) who ignited the late comeback for the Spurs who moved to 7-6.
- Houston rolled out a starting lineup with P.J. Tucker as sole holdover from their title-chasing years. Though Tucker weighs more than Tennessee Titan’s running back Derrick Henry, he flopped often to draw several San Antonio fouls.
- The talented Wood gifted Rodion Kurucs a behind-the-back assist for a lay-up that would have made Boris Diaw proud and generally made life difficult for the Spurs in the paint and around the rim.
- Dejounte Murray’s finishing at the rim continues to impress. Early in the first, he absorbed a bump from a much-heavier defender and converted a difficult layup. Coming out of the break, he willed home another difficult right-handed floater from the left side of the rim.
- Rockets coach Stephen Silas feted Keldon Johnson pre-game: “Oh, man, so much impressed me. The way he attacks the rim, the poise he plays with – what is he, a second-year player? He fits right into the system.”
- Keldon’s Kitchen: On a third quarter drive, Johnson changed directions by bouncing off a Rockets defender and banked in a Duncan-esque leaner.
- Devin’s Deeds: Late in the first quarter, Vassell nabbed an offensive rebound in traffic, gave a quick ball-fake to ward off several Rockets, and laid it in softly for a bucket.
- Sequence of the Game: With the game still in the balance, Dejounte Murray followed a pull-up jumper and ensuing steal with an emphatic slam in transition. Then DeRozan converted a ‘how’d he do that’ over the head scoop shot for an and-1.
- Journeyman Ben McLemore found easy going inside the arc for the Rockets and a 12-0 run stunned the lackadaisical hosts in the opening stanza. Poeltl connected on his first three baskets to keep San Antonio in pecking distance. Houston’s physicality bothered the Spurs’ perimeter players - preventing them from getting to preferred spots. San Antonio ended a quarter characterized by Sean Elliott as ‘sloppy’ and ‘unfocused’ lucky to be down only by nine.
- Poeltl converted a strong and-1 and tip follow to start the second period, while McLemore continued his unabated scoring. If you had McLemore (18) and Poeltl (11) being the early scoring leaders, you are truly prescient. It appeared like the Spurs hit on less than 25% of their shots within five feet and from distance. Despite the Spurs’ 0-fer from three, Lonnie Walker IV’s first points briefly tied the game. Houston’s drive-and-kick offense allowed them to bolt back into the lead. DeRozan’s free throws again tied the game, but Houston ended a heinous half with a Jones three to make it 53-50.
- DeRozan nailed his first two jumpers to start the third period. After improved half-court execution by both teams, a Walker IV lefty and-1 nudged the Spurs into the lead. San Antonio’s icy 3-point shooting (1 for 16) torpedoed their brief advantage, while the Rockets’ unheralded guards made heady plays. Just as soon as I had typed the previous sentence, Mills and Murray connected on consecutive makes from distance to inexplicably put the Spurs ahead 75-72 going into the final frame.
- A Poeltl driving layup(!) that somehow started from beyond the 3-point line gave San Antonio its biggest lead at seven. Houston’s Jones channeled his inner DeRozan to get over 20 points. Wood shined for Houston in crunchtime to give whatever his team needed from him as a point forward. A late run paced by much-needed outside buckets from Johnson and Murray helped give San Antonio a 15-point advantage and the home team held off its worthy opponent at the end.
- With Harden gone, here’s to the I-10 rivalry returning to enhanced watchability going forward.
- James Harden’s playoff legacy in one box score: 2-11 (2 of 9 from 3) FG, 7 assists, 3 rebounds, 6 turnovers, and 6 fouls. Trevor Ariza notched 20 and Clint Capela added 15 points, while Dejounte Murray and Jonathon Simmons outscored the bearded one in Kawhi Leonard’s absence.
For the Rockets fans perspective, visit The Dream Shake.
The Spurs head out to Portland to take on Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers on Monday for another early 2:00 PM CDT tipoff.