The Houston Rockets took a commanding 1-0 series lead over the San Antonio Spurs, and it’s perplexing from every angle.
We all know the Rockets are a great team, but, with the way they manhandled the Spurs on Monday night, they appear to be in an entirely different stratosphere. The final was 126-99 Houston, the largest defeat in a series-opening game in the Gregg Popovich era. Offensively, Houston was electric. On defense, they brought the clamps out and neutralized every Spur.
Rough night for the Spurs last night 🙈#GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/GjuhcD79j4
— TBN (@TBNMedia) May 2, 2017
It began with a slow drizzle in the first quarter and slowly turned into a torrential downpour. Houston finished the first with a 34-23 lead and didn’t look back — this was in San Antonio, might I add. At one point, they stretched their out to 39, and there was nothing the Spurs could do about it. James Harden got everybody involved and finished with 14 assists on top of his 20 points, and Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza (who combined to shoot a combined 6-of-40 from three in the first round) nailed four and five triples, respectively, on 10 attempts each. Harden also got his groove back slightly going 6-of-13, but the way he dictated the pace was more crucial than any number in the box score.
San Antonio had huge problems with their bigs, and the Rockets got up-and-down as quickly and as often as possible. When they weren’t running, it was a heavy — and I mean heavy — dose of pick-and-rolls that involved LaMarcus Aldridge, David Lee and Pau Gasol. Unfortunately, Kawhi Leonard can’t guard all five guys at once. At one point, it felt like no matter where the Rockets launched from, the shots fell.
Also Read: Pop on Leonard: He’s The League’s Best Player Right Now
There were numerous instances where a Spurs forward gets stuck on Harden island. Yes, it went as well as you’d expect. At times, the Beard settled for jumpers but, when he went downhill, there wasn’t much that could be done to stop him. San Antonio’s interior defense was so bad that Clint Capela went for 20 points in 25 minutes and connected on eight of his 10 attempts from the field. I’m not knocking Capela, but others create 99.9 percent of his points. (It’s 95.8 percent in the playoffs, to be exact, but who’s counting?)
San Antonio is a great team. They’re also a versatile team. Playing uptempo doesn’t scare them, but it will take them out of their element because their offense is heavily reliant on halfcourt sets. Golden State lost a game to the Spurs despite playing fast, but the pace the Rockets and Warriors play with are vastly different. Houston is chaotic. Golden State is controlled. It’s a small sample size, but San Antonio doesn’t like playing helter-skelter basketball.
Of the Spurs 15 turnovers, 13 were steals, and the Rockets got 19 points off of them. Additionally, San Antonio shot 36.9 percent from the field. Remember when I said the offense got stopped in its tracks? I wasn’t using hyperbole. Leonard, who had one of the most efficient first rounds ever, recorded 21 points but shot a meager 5-of-14 from the floor. The biggest letdown, though, was LaMarcus Aldridge.
Last year, LMA played out of his mind against the Oklahoma City Thunder: 26.8 points on 52.5 percent shooting and 8.5 rebounds. The Spurs still lost the series.
Also Read: 6 Surprises From The First Round of NBA Playoffs
Monday night, Davis Bertans threw up a goose egg in the scoring column and was the only Spur with fewer points than Aldridge. In 25 minutes, he accounted for just four points. What’s discouraging is that he wasn’t aggressive. Aldridge had just seven attempts from the field and didn’t get to the free throw line once, and multiple times down the floor we saw him pass up open jumpers or fail to capitalize on a mismatch with Patrick Beverley.
If Aldridge’s shot chart was something like 2-of-14 or 3-of-16, it’s different. That’s him being off. But seven offerings? He’s got to look for his shot more especially since he’s the second option.
The elephant in the room for Houston is if this shooting is sustainable. Everyone in the country knows they’re going to be streaky, but it’s on their defense to remain lights-out when shots aren’t falling. That’s a tall task. Houston locks up a lot harder after getting a few buckets. However, if they go cold, San Antonio can settle down and focus on picking apart a defense that isn’t good.
At least three more games are going to be played between the two, and Game 1 isn’t an indicator for the rest of the series. Regardless, the Spurs looked awful. It was an overall debacle that is rarely seen from the franchise, but we must also credit Houston. They came in, set the tempo and executed perfectly.
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