Has the sleeping giant awoken for the San Antonio Spurs?
LaMarcus Aldridge would like to think so.
The Spurs power forward saw a long-awaited return to form in Game 3 against the Houston Rockets, finishing with 26 points on 12 of 20 shooting (60 percent) with seven rebounds and four blocks. Aldridge picked the perfect time to play his best game of the postseason, too, with the Spurs losing Tony Parker to a postseason- and possibly career-ending injury in Game 2.
Kawhi Leonard added 26 points of his own for the Spurs along with 10 boards and seven assists en route to their 103-92 win over the Rockets Friday night. While it was very back and forth for much of the first half, San Antonio looked dominant later in the second half behind Aldridge, Leonard and the team’s typically assertive defense.
Slow starts on offense plagued both teams early, with Leonard and Rockets’ star guard James Harden scoring 10 and 13 in the first half, respectively. Both players turned it up in the third quarter, however, with Harden scoring 14 points and Kawhi scoring nine. The Spurs went into the half with a 43-39 lead, but the Rockets kept it close for much of the third quarter. However, after a buzzer-beating three from Spurs swingman Jonathan Simmons, the Spurs went to work in the fourth, eventually pushing their lead to 12 and running away with the game as it drew to a close.
Dejounte Murray, the Spurs rookie who started Game 3 in Tony Parker’s absence, may not have filled up the stat sheet, but he played as important a role as any in the game plan. Murray allowed Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to keep his bench rotation intact, which proved pivotal throughout the game. The San Antonio bench vastly outplayed that of Houston, scoring 26 to Houston’s 10 and shooting 9 of 27 (33 percent) to Houston’s 3 of 13 (23 percent). Harden, was all alone on the offense for the Rockets for much of the game, finishing with 43 points on 14 of 28 shooting (50 percent) while the other four starters shot just 37 percent for the game. Rockets forward Trevor Ariza had 15 points on 5 of 9 shooting (56 percent) in the first half, but was virtually invisible in the second half, finishing the game with 17 points.
If the Rockets want to get back on track, they need to up the pace on the offensive end. In their Game 1 win in San Antonio, Houston ran up tempo the entire game, providing them with plenty of open looks and fast break points while making the Spurs look old and outclassed. They need to get back to that pace, in addition to the bench playing much better, if they want to get back into this series. The team also needs to step it up on defense. While they weren’t an elite unit during the regular season, they have one of the scrappiest players in the league in Patrick Beverley as well as some plus, physical defenders in Trevor Ariza, Clint Capela and Nenê. The Spurs struggled the most against the Grizzlies in the first round when Memphis played physical basketball; the Rockets have the talent to play just as physically, and they just need to make use of that talent.
As for the Spurs, they need to continue feeding their big men. Aldridge had his best game of the playoffs, while Pau Gasol had 12 points of his own. Both lessened the burden Leonard usually carries on offense, allowing him to focus more energy on the defensive end. Those two carrying some of the load, combined with the Spurs playing their brand of defense, seems to be the winning formula for Popovich and his squad in this series.
Who Wins Game 4?
Despite Parker going down in Game 2, San Antonio came out in Game 3 and beat Houston on their own floor, stealing back home-court advantage for the series. While the Rockets managed to keep it close for much of the first three quarters, the Spurs superior bench and defense ultimately decided the game.
The Spurs seemingly have the momentum to this point. If their bench continues to outplay Houston’s second unit and they keep up the energy on defense, they should be heading back to San Antonio after Game 4 up 3-1 with a chance to close out the series in Game 5.
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