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What we learned from the Spurs win over the Rockets

It wasn’t pretty, but the Spurs are showing improvement in areas the previously struggled.

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

Who says two can’t be worth more than three? Mathematically it may not make sense, but once you start mixing in some multiplication, exceptions can be found. The Spurs’ 123-120 win over the Rockets on Monday — their fourth straight and third of the streak that was heart attack-inducing — was one such game.

One huge stat line from the game would normally suggest that the other team won, and that’s the Rockets hitting 20 threes compared to just 7 for the Spurs, but that’s where the deceiving math comes in. While 13 more three-pointers gave the Rockets a whopping 39-point advantage in that department, the Spurs were even more lethal from inside the arc, especially from the paint.

Overall, the Spurs hit nine more field goals (47 vs. 38), and subtract the three-point attempts, San Antonio scored on 40 two-pointers for 80 points (72 of which came in the paint), while the Rockets hit 18 two-pointers — yes, two fewer than they hit from three, go figure — for just 36 points. That’s an even more whopping 44-point advantage for the Spurs, and combined with the Rockets hitting two more free throws, there’s your three-point Spurs win and math lesson of the day.

Of course, this win wasn’t without its flaws for the Spurs. Beyond the poor three-point shooting — and defending of it — they had many chances but failed to properly put a shorthanded, tanking Rockets team away. While the outcome never really felt in doubt — although there was a moment there when it looked like it was going to OT had Kenyon Martin Jr’s last-second three flushed down the toilet bowl instead of swirling out — the Spurs didn’t have an excuse for letting the game get that close.

But then again, that has been this Spurs team all season. They don’t always bring their best effort against inferior opponents, but more often than not they have found a way to grab some not-so-pretty wins. The fact is this team of young players who want to play past April 10 appears to be peaking at the right time, while the teams they’re in competition with are struggling. Not only did they just win their fourth straight game for the second time this season — as a reminder, they didn’t win four in a row at any point during the last two seasons — but this is also the first time since 2007 they have won four games in a row on the road, which is somewhat mind boggling.

For this team to be accomplishing feats that not only the last two squads featuring DeMar DeRozan didn’t — and this is not DeMar slander, more like criticizing those who have slandered the Spurs since DeRozan has thrived in Chicago and therefore claim the Spurs must have misused him — but also not even by the 2014 championship squad, it makes them all the more fun to root for, even if they give you a heart attack at least once a week. Whatever side of the tank debate you’re on, you have to at least admit that much.

Takeaways

  • Rockets rookie Alperen Sengun learned a lesson in the second half when the ball went out of bounds off of Dejounte Murray on a rebound attempt, but Sengun had clearly fouled him with a hard knock to the back. It was one of those situations where the official made a “no harm, no foul” call and simply gave Spurs the ball instead of calling a foul on Sengun, but he couldn’t believe the “wrong” out-of-bounds call and kept complaining, so the ref finally changed it to a foul. This made him even more exacerbated, and he was signaling to James Silas to challenge the call, but his coach knew better. As Rockets color commentator and former NBA player Ryan Hollins said, as Sengun gets older he will learn the tricks of the trade, such as knowing when the refs are being kind and to accept their ruling.
  • Remember when the Spurs were the worst team in the league in the clutch? While finishes like last night’s aren’t always pretty, five of their last six wins have come down to the wire, so it’s a sign they have turned a corner in terms of finding ways to win tight games. And as a reminder, two of those came thanks to various players hitting game winners, with a Lonnie Walker three vs. the Thunder and Keldon Johnson putpack against the Warriors. Last night, while the Spurs allowed the Rockets to hang tight with some late threes, they held on this time by hitting their free throws in the final minute. If they can carry what they’ve learned about closing games this season into next season and improve their overall record in close games, they’ll be much better off.
  • Sometimes the facts speak for themselves: