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Spurs scorched in transition as winning streak ends against Rockets

The Spurs two-game winning streak came to an end as the Rockets torched them in transition and the paint.

NBA: Houston Rockets at San Antonio Spurs Aaron Meullion-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs headed into tonight’s game on a rare winning streak and going up against a team they had already beaten twice this season to begin a back-to-back, home-away miniseries against the Houston Rockets. However, they were without their two leading scorers in Keldon Johnson (foot sprain) and Devin Vassell (injury management). In the Spurs’ two wins against the Rockets earlier in the season, they won by forcing turnovers and getting out into transition, but tonight the scripts were flipped, as the Spurs were outscored 30-19 on the fast break and 74-36 on the paint on their way to a 122-110 loss.

In a sign of things to come, the Rockets got out to an 18-10 lead early, getting whatever they wanted on offense before the Spurs woke up for a 13-2 run to take the lead 23-20. The bench played well early, including two threes from newly signed two-way player Julian Champagnie to help the Spurs take a 32-29 lead after the first quarter, but that would be the Spurs’ last good quarter of the game.

The Rockets took advantage of three straight fast break opportunities provided by the Spurs, specifically Blake Wesley trying to force the action against Boban Marjanovic at the rim too much and getting blocked, leading to six straight easy points in transition and a Pop timeout with the Rockets back up 37-34. Houston continued to get whatever they wanted on offense on the way to 41 points in the second quarter, but Devonte’ Graham always had an answer for the Spurs.

He scored 20 of his team-high 28 points in the first half and hit five of his seven threes, and Spurs briefly retook the lead, getting up 60-54, but once again they got careless with the ball. The Rockets took advantage with an 11-0, but Jeremy Sochan, who had just left the court to get a new jersey after tearing his out of frustration, came back and orchestrated seven straight points with two buckets and an assist to bring the Spurs back within two, 68-70, at the break.

Unfortunately, that was the end of any good runs from the Spurs for the night. Graham’s scoring and the Spurs’ three-point shooting in general had kept them in what was in an otherwise sloppy first half, but once the shots stopped falling in the second half, the Spurs were in trouble. The Rockets scored the first seven points of third quarter and eventually got out to their first double-digit lead at 83-73. In what would become a theme for the rest of the night, the Spurs responded get back within five but never had enough juice to come all the way back.

They were only down 95-90 after the third quarter thanks to a quicky flurry from Charles Bassey, who scored 8 of the Spurs’ final 10 points, but just like the rest of the quarters in this game, it was the Rockets who started the fourth strong. They used a 12-4 run to get the lead back out to double digits, and the shorthanded Spurs never really threatened again as they just couldn’t find the offense to come back and couldn’t take care of the ball well enough to keep the Rockets out of transition, ending their winning streak at two games (and ending the Rockets’ 10-game losing streak as well).

Game Notes

  • If only Jeremy Sochan could have made that halfcourt attempt in the Rising Stars Challenge, Rockets rookie Jabari Smith would have been playing with pink hair tonight to fulfill a wager. What could have been.
  • Bassey had one of his best nights as a Spur with 14 points on 7-8 shooting, 8 rebounds and three assists. He was the Spurs only threat off the bench in this game, with the rest of the depleted squad — which was missing Doug McDermott and either Vassell or Malaki Branham to help anchor the offense — only putting up 17 points. Bench scoring was another factor that favored the Rockets, as they got 57 points from their bench, led by 20 from Tari Eason.
  • That being said, 12 of those other Spurs bench points did come from the two newest Spurs: Champaigne and Sandro Mamukelashvili. Both hit their first shots as Spurs, and both were threes. Champagnie especially looked impressive early considering this was only the third NBA game of career, and he more than doubled his career playing time total of seven minutes with twelve tonight.
  • The Spurs have struggled with three-point shooting so much this season that if you were told they hit 15 in a game and seven more than the opponent, you’d probably think they won. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case due to the aforementioned advantages the Rockets had in the paint and on the fast break.

Play of the Game

It wasn’t the Spurs’ prettiest or most impressive shot of the night, but Bassey deserves credit for not being bashful on offense, which can sometimes be the case with him. This is also the third game in a row he has displayed this little push shot from out towards the free throw line, so it’s good to see him expanding his offensive range.

Up next: Sunday at Rockets

The Spurs complete the back-to-back miniseries against the Rockets tomorrow in Houston. Tip-off will be at 6:00 PM CT on Bally Sports SW-SA.