The San Antonio Spurs needed to defeat the Houston Rockets on Tuesday in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Spurs were able to do just that, by a score of 123-105. What looked like a challenge on paper, even though the Rockets were without James Harden, turned out to be a relatively easy win for the good guys.
San Antonio was aggressive from the opening tip and they led 31-25 at the end of the first quarter. Less than 40 seconds into the second period, the Spurs grabbed a double-digit lead and they were able to hang onto that fat advantage for the duration of the half.
Heading into the third, the Spurs were up 66-49. For the rest of the game, the Silver and Black kept the Rockets from truly getting back into it. At one point in the fourth quarter, Houston got within 14 points — but then the Spurs responded with a 15-0 run to put their in-state rival to bed.
All in all, it was a very encouraging win. The Spurs thoroughly outplayed the Rockets for many of the game’s 48 minutes. San Antonio got a lot of impressive play up and down the roster.
Unfortunately, despite the win, the Spurs’ chances of making the playoffs don’t look good. They need to win their final game of the regular season on Thursday against the Utah Jazz and they need two of the following three teams to lose their season finale: Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns.
That said, whatever happens, the Spurs have to be happy with what has happened in the bubble. We got a preview of what to expect from San Antonio going forward — and there’s a lot to like.
Spurs vs. Rockets – Final Grades
This was another high-level game out of DeRozan. Offensively, he took smart shots, stayed within the offense, made the right reads and helped push the pace. Defensively, he was more active than usual, particularly help-wise. DeRozan was also an asset on the boards. Overall, it was just a smart, efficient game by the 31-year-old.
Coming into the day, White was questionable after leaving the game against the New Orleans Pelicans with a bruised knee. While he was obviously far from 100 percent, he decided to give it a go. Compared to how we’ve seen him play in the bubble, this wasn’t a good outing for White, as he had no explosion going to the rim, couldn’t jump and his shots were flat. That said, it was gutsy of him to suit up at all and his hustle and team-first play gave his teammates a boost.
It was an interesting outing for Murray. I didn’t love many of the decisions he made but, more often than not, his iffy decisions had a happy ending. He made some strange passes and his shot attempts were oftentimes questionable but, again, it usually turned out well for the Spurs. Murray finished with a team-high seven assists and hit half of his shots. Defensively, he was gambling a lot but that too worked out okay because his gambling paid dividends a lot of the time.
Lonnie Walker IV
It’s obvious that Walker is trying to expand his game. Let’s chalk up his performance against the Rockets as a learning experience. He tried to be a playmaker but it wasn’t pretty; his five turnovers begin to tell the story of his issues in that department. He wasn’t taking bad shots but he was hesitating a lot and his second-guessing of himself caused him to be out of rhythm for much of the afternoon. Defensively, he had some blown coverages but his effort was high and he was a lot better on the boards than usual.
Poeltl feasted on the miniature Rockets. Houston doesn’t play anyone who is even close to a traditional center and the Austrian made them pay by dominating on the glass and using his size to score at the rim. A lot of bigs in today’s league struggle to score against smaller players so the fact that Poeltl was able to do that against the Rockets has to help his value heading into the summer. Add in the fact that he moves with enough agility on defense to stay in front of smaller players and Poeltl looked like a valuable piece — even as the NBA evolves into a smaller and faster league.
Well, wow. Johnson led the way with 24 points and 11 rebounds — both career-highs for the rookie. He nailed all three of his three-point attempts, all five of his free throw attempts and attacked the rim with ferocity. While Big Body muscled his way for points at the rim, the amount of skill he displayed was equally as impressive. He played at a great pace, made smart passes, knew when to attack and used angles extremely well. Defensively, Pop put him on Russell Westbrook for long stretches and Johnson did well. Westbrook bested him at times but the rookie’s feet looked fast enough to stay in front of him and when Westbrook tried to bully him in the paint, the 20-year-old’s surprising strength stopped that from happening. Overall, the Spurs have to be over the moon with how the 29th overall pick of the 2019 NBA Draft is playing.
Belinelli had some trash baskets late to pretty his stat line but I didn’t like how he played. He took bad shots, he killed ball-movement at times and his defense was laughably poor. To his credit, he looks to be in a lot better shape than he was earlier in the season — but his improved mobility didn’t amount to much against the Rockets.
This was a smooth performance by Gay. Offensively, he stayed within the confines of what the Spurs were trying to do and hit a few timely shots. The second unit looks to him to be the focal point in a lot of the sets and he was up for the job. Defensively, he was relatively good and helped out on the glass.
The good: Eubanks looked like a man among boys when going up for contested rebounds. The Rockets didn’t have anyone with the girth or leaping ability to keep him from dominating in that aspect. He also had a powerful finish. The bad: Eubanks struggled to stay on the court on defense. He’s not quite coordinated enough yet to defend perimeter players. On offense, his hands weren’t the best and he was rushing too much, which caused him to fail to take advantage of the constant mismatches.
Weatherspoon did more of what we’ve come to expect: defend aggressively, penetrate-and-kick and play with confidence.
This was Metu’s first game in the bubble. It was obvious that he hadn’t played in a meaningful game in more than five months.
This was also Samanic’s first game of the restart. He was sloppy and out of rhythm — which shouldn’t be surprising.
Pop defeated D’Antoni in an important game, as he is wont to do. He has his guys playing really good basketball right now. His rotation is working, he’s trusting his youngsters and his in-game decisions are crisp. Pop had plays ready to take advantage of the small Rockets — and they worked to perfection. All that said, I didn’t love the fact that he let White play. White is too important to the future to send out there at 75 percent. If he would have gotten seriously injured, that would have been unforgivable.