What happened to the San Antonio Spurs? The question seems alarmingly relevant after the 126-99 thrashing of the Spurs by the Houston Rockets Monday night.
James Harden and Clint Capela both double-doubled—Harden went for 20 points, 14 assists and 4 steals, and Capela scored 20 points and grabbed 13 boards—while Trevor Ariza scored 25 points on 50 percent shooting and grabbed four rebounds. Ryan Anderson scored 14 points and was a game-high +37. As a team, the Rockets shot a blistering 22-for-50 (44 percent) from three. They took the lead early and never looked back, playing the Spurs to perfection en route to their Game 1 victory.
The Spurs looked very unlike themselves in Game 1. A step too slow, San Antonio just couldn’t keep up with Houston for much of the game, running around in circles trying to stay with Harden and his teammates on the defensive end. On offense, the Spurs looked lost as well, with the starting five combining for just 48 points.
Kawhi Leonard scored 21 of those points while also grabbing 11 boards and dishing out six assists, but Leonard can’t do it all himself. He needs his teammates—LaMarcus Aldridge, specifically—to step up their respective games. Aldridge, who averaged 17 points during the regular season, has managed a measly 13 points-per-game on 44 percent shooting this postseason, lacking any sort of confidence on the offensive end. He often deferred to his teammates rather than taking good looks against smaller defensive matchups in Game 1 (resulting in a game-low -36). The Spurs other bigs, David Lee, Pau Gasol and Dewayne Dedmon, left much to be desired on the offensive end as well.
Moving forward, the Spurs need to get much more out of players not named Kawhi Leonard—not just their bigs—if they want to win. Aldridge finished with just four points while Danny Green finished with eight and Tony Parker with 11; that can’t happen if San Antonio expects to keep pace with Houston’s high-octane offense. With Houston being one of the better fast break teams in the league, the Spurs really need to limit turnovers and other mental mistakes as well. On the defensive end, the team simply just needs to refocus. The Spurs are very capable of defending Mike D’Antoni’s offense—evidenced by their 3-1 record against the Rockets during the regular season—but they need to get back to slowing the pace. Slowing down Houston’s offensive sets early in the shot clock is a must, while there needs to be an improvement in closeouts, which often looked lazy in Game 1.
There’s not much Houston needs to improve to keep things rolling into Game 2. The offense ran up and down the court against the Spurs’ defense, which looked collectively gassed as early as the second quarter. Houston was excellent defensively as well, limiting the Spurs to just 39 points in the first half. Defenders often doubled Leonard when he got the ball, forcing him to pass it off or make mistakes. Leonard is good enough that he will continue to get shots off, but slowing him down is the key to disrupting the Spurs’ entire offense. If they can keep up the intensity on both ends of the floor, the Rockets could head back to Houston with 2-0 series lead.
Who Wins Game 2?
The Spurs played a very uncharacteristic Game 1, probably the worse they’ve played all season. However, they have the talent and experience needed in order to bounce back and overcome a loss as bad as this one. Houston (probably) isn’t going to shoot as well from three-point range in Game 2, either. After getting an earful from Popovich, the Spurs should be able to get back on track and even the series before heading to Houston for Game 3.
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