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San Antonio vs. Houston, Final Score: Spurs hold off Rockets for 4th-straight win, 123-120

Dejounte Murray scores a career-high 33 points to lead the Silver and Black on the road.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs completed their sweep of their four-game road trip on Monday, surviving a late run by the Houston Rockets to take a 123-120 win.

Dejounte Murray led the way, setting a new career high with 33 points while adding 11 assists, seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Jakob Poeltl finished the night with a double-double, posting 17 points and 13 rebounds. Keldon Johnson picked up 21 points on the night. Josh Richardson and Zach Collins were vital off the bench, Richardson putting up 15 points, six rebounds and five assists and Collins pitching in 13 points and eight boards.

Observations

  • Before the game tipped off, Dan Weiss and Fabricio Oberto (I have really, truly enjoyed his inclusion in these broadcasts) pointed out that, according to Second Spectrum, the Spurs as a team are leading the league running 18.82 miles combined per game. I have no idea what that means in context — maybe they move a lot off the ball or rotate really well on defense? Weiss and Oberto didn’t really either — Weiss said something like “Fab, could you imagine telling Pop you ran 18 miles a game?” But regardless, it’s a cool stat and I’m sure someone smarter than me could find a use for it.
  • Josh Primo’s starting AND the Spurs are wearing the white fiesta jerseys? Is there a full moon out tonight? Do I need to buy a lottery ticket? Is it an omen? (Note: I wrote this in the first quarter. It was definitely an omen)
  • San Antonio immediately started killing the Rockets in transition. The Spurs’ first five buckets all came at the rim. Houston’s answer to slow them down was for Jae’Sean Tate to bump Dejounte Murray as he brought the ball up the court for a borderline flagrant foul (the refs checked the tape and ruled it a common foul).
  • The Spurs had 23 points halfway through the first quarter and it’s become clear that the Rockets are a very young team. They have such little interest in playing defense, or have surrendered to the fact that they aren’t any good at it. It’s almost like they want San Antonio to hurry up and score just so they can get the ball back already. The Spurs really hit 15 of their first 25 field goals.
  • Credit to the Rockets, though: they shot the lights out, making 7 of their first 12 treys. You’d have expected the Spurs to have a pretty sizeable lead the way they were playing on offense, but Houston was playing almost as well. As Sean Elliott put it, they were “going through the motions” on defense, mainly because they were getting whatever they wanted on the other side. They still finished the first quarter up 39-31, but the gap couldv’e been even larger.
  • With Doug McDermott out, Popovich rolled out a bench unit that featured Zach Collins and Jock Landale on the court together for a significant stretch. I didn’t totally hate it! On paper, it’s two bigs that are capable of both spacing the floor and finishing inside, each one creating space for the other. It’d probably work a little better if either of them hit their 3s (Collins began the game 0-2 from deep and Landale 0-1), but both men took advantage of the size mismatches — Collins was plus-8 and racked up six points and three rebounds before heading to the bench early in the second. It might not work out as well against a team that’s more locked in on defense, but it was a serviceable combination for tonight.
  • If you’ve ever listened to Jalen Rose, you’ve probably heard him say that he never got dunked on in his entire career. He called it a “business decision.” Jakob did not make the same decision...
  • It seemed like the hot start by San Antonio got the team way too loose. The Spurs turned the ball over five times within a two-minute stretch, allowing Houston to shrink a 15-point lead down to single digits. Sean Elliott was especially annoyed — he said that games like this are supposed to be about getting better, not putting on a show. And if you’re a team desperately trying to keep your playoff hopes alive, you can’t afford to play unfocused. They went into halftime up 67-55 but again, the lead could’ve been twice as big.
  • Dejounte Murray did that thing again where he looks like a top-three point guard in the NBA — 22 points on 9-10 shooting, 7 assists with one turnover, five rebounds, a block and a steal. A top-three point guard would be lucky to have those numbers by the end of a game, let alone a half. And yes, it is against the worst defense in the league. And yes, he’s still got a ways to go before becoming a Point God (Chris Paul would not have stood for the lackadaisical defense San Antonio played through the first half). But man, he makes the Spurs worth watching.
  • The Spurs’ 12-point lead got slashed in half less than 90 seconds into the third quarter. Pop was not happy. It was down to three points before a triple from Dejounte pushed it back up to six halfway through the quarter. Woof.
  • Thank goodness for Josh Richardson and Zach Collins for getting the team back on track. Richardson has especially been on a tear of late — he was averaging 18.8 points through his last four games. I’ve been trying to think why he’s fit in so well in such a short amount of time — my take: he’s a much better shooter than Derrick White and doesn’t need the ball in his hands as much to make an impact. White’s obviously a better distributor with the basketball, but with a strong facilitator already on the team in Murray, it wasn’t really needed. Richardson’s shot 45.8% from deep and hit 3-of-7 of his 3s through the third quarter. The Spurs acquired him mainly to match White’s salary in the trade and keep some salary cap flexibility (he’s got one year left on his contract after this season). But he’s proving to be someone San Antonio might want to keep around.
  • Well, it wasn’t pretty by any means, but the Spurs got it done and extended the winning streak to four. The Rockets got as close as three again, twice, but San Antonio held them off *just* enough to come away with the win. And of course it got very dramatic at the end with Dejounte missing one of his free throws with 16 seconds left and Houston drilling a 3 at the other end and then Dejounte hitting two more free throws to go back up by three with 8 seconds left and Kenyon Martin Jr. getting a game-tying shot off and the ball swirling all the way around the rim before falling out. But a win is a win is a win.
  • I’ve been debating in my head whether it’d be better for the Spurs to make the play-in or stay out of it for a better draft pick. Because this draft class is loaded and a single-digit draft pick would be a huge get — this team’s due to move up in the lottery at some point. But ... I’m leaning the play-in. The chance to knock the Pelicans out of the playoffs after the McCollum trade, the chance to knock the star-crossed Lakers out of the playoffs, the chance to MAKE IT BACK TO THE PLAYOFFS is all too tempting. If they miss, they miss — the expectations for this year weren’t that high anyway and if the team really wants a higher draft pick, they’ll probably just use the pick they got from Toronto to move up. But playing in a game with stakes would be really good experience for a young team that’s rebuilding its identity.
  • One last note: Dan Weiss said after the game it’s the first time San Antonio won four road games in a row since 2007. Sheesh!

For the Rockets fans’ perspective, visit The Dream Shake.

The Spurs return home on Wednesday, putting their winning streak on the line against the Memphis Grizzlies. Tipoff will be at 7:30 PM CT on Bally Sports SW-SA.