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What we learned from the Spurs win over the Rockets

The Silver and Black enjoy a no-frills victory as everything goes their way in Houston.

San Antonio Spurs v Houston Rockets Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs snapped their two-game losing streak, routing the hapless Houston Rockets as just about everything fell in their favor at the Toyota Center on Tuesday night. Not only did they knock down a season-best 57.4% of their shot attempts, but they also scored an unthinkable 82 points in the paint against their I-10 rival.

Dejounte Murray paced the Silver and Black with 19 points, five rebounds, and ten assists, followed by 18 points, nine boards, three assists, and two blocks from Jakob Poeltl. Eight Spurs scored in double figures, including Keldon Johnson (16), Doug McDermott (15), Tre Jones (14), Drew Eubanks (13), Devin Vassell (12), and Thaddeus Young (12).

Head coach Gregg Popovich and company have steadily inched towards respectability after the first few weeks of January sent them plummeting in the standings. They picked up a dominant victory on the first night of a back-to-back, and they will have a chance to prove their success wasn’t a fluke when they host the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday.

Poeltl isn’t San Antonio’s best player, but his impact is priceless

If Dejounte Murray is the heartbeat that drives the lifeforce of the Spurs, then Jakob Poeltl is the bones that keep everything upright and give the body structure. The 26-year-old center does so many things that often go unnoticed to the untrained eye, but he ranks third in screen assists, sixth in blocks per game, and leads the NBA in shots contested.

Poeltl has been on a tear recently, and he continued his dominant stretch of basketball when the Silver and Black embarked on a 200-mile road trip from San Antonio to the Toyota Center for a matchup with the Rockets on Tuesday. The sixth-year big man notched 18 points, nine boards, and two blocks in 21 minutes, decimating a half-baked Houston defense.

Jakob rolled to the basket, aggressively pursued mismatches in the post, protected the paint, and made a conscious effort to move without the ball even when the play didn’t directly involve him. Every decision on the floor was purposeful, and while he has a limited offensive repertoire, Poeltl has practically mastered what the Spurs ask of him on a nightly basis.

Following San Antonio’s thrashing of their interstate rival, the skyscraping Austrian is now averaging a Tim Duncanesque 18.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 3.0 blocks over his last five games. Poeltl isn’t the second coming of The Big Fundamental, but his outstanding two-way impact has helped the Spurs find their footing as January winds down.

The Spurs have made year one of the rebuild easier to swallow

There isn’t a polite way for me to put this, or rather I don’t have it in me to use friendlier words to describe the Rockets. Houston is a total trainwreck moseying around the hardwood for 48 minutes under the guise of being a professional basketball team. And their dysfunction was on full display on Tuesday night as they lost their ninth consecutive home game.

The Rockets were competitive for the first ten minutes of the contest but fell apart at the end of the first quarter. Once San Antonio snagged a 25-23 lead, Houston immediately began hanging their heads, slumping their shoulders, bickering over defensive miscommunications, groaning about whistles, and resorting to hero-ball to close the growing gap.

Though I don’t tune into enough Rockets basketball to comprehend how much head coach Stephen Silas factors into the chaos in Houston, it was impossible not to sympathize with the visibly frustrated playcaller. Every ill-advised jumper or careless turnover made me cringe, but it also made me thankful for how PATFO have handled the first year of the rebuild.

Dejounte Murray is learning how to balance scoring with playmaking

Dejounte Murray dropped a career-high 32 points on the way to logging his seventh triple-double of the season in the previous meeting between these interstate foes. The 25-year-old floor general did everything in his power to get his teammates involved, but when the game started falling out of reach in the fourth quarter, he took over the matchup.

The spindly point guard has shown a knack for understanding whether he should score or facilitate depending on the circumstances. Murray had his way with whoever Houston threw at him last time out, and he could have dropped 30 on Tuesday night, but he opted to create open looks, and his selflessness rubbed off as the Spurs recorded 38 assists.

That generous ball movement began with Dejounte. And it was one of the reasons San Antonio was able to generate a massive lead and save their legs for their upcoming SEGABABA versus the Grizzlies. Putting the game away early also gave guys like Juancho Hernangomez, Jock Landale, Tre Jones, and Thaddeus Young a chance to show their worth.