Game 6 Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets

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With Kawhi Leonard hobbled by an ankle injury suffered in the third quarter, an unlikely group comprised of Danny Green, Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili stepped up and carried the San Antonio Spurs to a 110-107 overtime victory Tuesday night against the Houston Rockets.

Leonard finished with 22 points, 15 rebounds and four assists for the Spurs while playing limited minutes in the fourth and riding the bench in overtime. Mills, who got the start Tuesday night, went for 20 points on 7 of 16 shooting (43.8 percent) and four assists while Green scored 16 on 5 of 11 shooting (45.5 percent) with five boards and three assists. Ginobili had a turn back the clock performance, scoring 12 points on 5 of 11 shooting (45.5 percent) while grabbing seven boards and dishing out five assists. All three made crucial plays down the stretch, including the game-sealing block of James Harden by Ginobili in overtime that allowed the Spurs to take a 3-2 lead in the series.

For the Rockets, Harden finished with a triple-double of 33 points on 11 of 24 shooting (45.8 percent), 10 rebounds and 10 assists in the loss. Patrick Beverley added 20 points of his own, shooting 5 of 7 (71.4 percent) from three, while Ryan Anderson scored 19 points and grabbed seven boards off the bench, his first time coming off the bench all season.

Game 5 was back and forth all night long and was, by far, the closest game between these two teams this series. Neither team showed up much on the defensive end, leading to a shootout that went down to the overtime wire. The Spurs and the Rockets combined for a total of 81 three-point attempts, missing double the attempts (54) that they made (27). The Rockets began to pull away towards the end of the fourth quarter —  courtesy 6 of 24 shooting performance by the Spurs in the frame —  but clutch play by the aforementioned guard trio brought the Spurs back and forced overtime.

Both teams stalled to start the extra period, with Beverley’s three-pointer with two minutes remaining being the first points scored. With Leonard on the bench, Green stepped up and, with the help of three Harden turnovers, scored the final seven Spurs points before Ginobili’s block clinched the victory.

Looking ahead to Game 6, the injury to Leonard could have a significant impact. While Leonard says he will play, the fact that Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich benched him towards the end of the fourth and the entire overtime period is certainly cause for concern. Otherwise, the Spurs need to refocus on defense. While they forced 15 Rockets turnovers (eight by Harden), there was a clear lack of defensive effort from the Spurs outside of the closing minutes of overtime. If they want to win Game 6 in Houston, they’re going to have to slow down Harden in addition to Houston’s bevy of other shooters, especially when Houston goes to the smaller lineup like they did by starting Eric Gordon in Game 5. The Spurs do not want to chance another shootout with the Rockets, especially with Leonard hurting.

As for Houston, head coach Mike D’Antoni needs to consider expanding his playoff rotation. Rolling through the game with just a seven-man squad, the Rockets looked exhausted near the end, which put a big strain on their offense. Rather than keeping the pace, Houston waited until late in the shot clock, which led to bad shots and costly turnovers. Montrezl Harrell and Sam Dekker are two guys who can add some offense while allowing guys like Harden, Clint Capela, Patrick Beverley and others to grab a breather, even if it’s only for a few moments. The Rockets need to stay active on defense as well. While there was a severe lack of defense from both teams for much of Game 5, Houston had some great defensive spurts. Capela had three blocks in the game, while Harden helped hold Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge to a combined 15 for 41 shooting (36.6 percent). Keeping the pace and remaining active on both ends are the floor are crucial if the Rockets want to take Game 6.

Who Wins Game 6?

Even with no Leonard in overtime, the Spurs still managed to pull out the win. However, going into Houston’s Toyota Center and trying to win with a hobbled Leonard is much different than doing it in San Antonio’s own AT&T Center. If Leonard’s injury interferes with his play, the Rockets should force a deciding Game 7.