The San Antonio Spurs collapsed down the stretch and suffered a painful loss against a severely short-handed Houston Rockets squad on Thursday night. The Spurs seemingly wrestled away control of the game in the fourth quarter … only to watch the Rockets orchestrate a late run to capture a 109-105 victory.
The Rockets, who yesterday traded away James Harden, were down to only nine healthy bodies. San Antonio rarely took advantage of the circumstances and Houston never let up and kept playing hard, obviously motivated by Harden’s ugly exit.
The Spurs are now 6-6, while the Rockets improved to 4-6.
A LaMarcus Aldridge jumper put the good guys up by nine points with four and a half minutes remaining. But the Rockets came roaring back and the Spurs had no answer. Powered by a trio of triples, Houston went on a 15-2 run in the next three minutes. The Spurs had two chances to tie the game in the final minutes but DeMar DeRozan missed a layup and a turnaround jumper.
The Spurs never found a way to contain Christian Wood. Houston’s starting center had 27 points, 15 rebounds, three blocked shots and was 5-for-7 on three-pointers.
Spurs vs. Rockets: Final Grades
After missing two games to be with his ill father in California, DeRozan came out of the gates looking extremely rusty. In the first three quarters, he was only 1-for-6 from the field and was having trouble asserting himself, although he was able to make plays for his teammates from time to time. He got going shortly after entering the game in the fourth, as he made three straight shots to begin the quarter. Unfortunately, the good times didn’t last. He struggled to get separation during money time and was forced into difficult attempts. On the other end, no matter what he was doing on offense, DeRozan’s defense remained lackluster.
Murray was mostly a force for good, although it wasn’t smooth sailing for the 24-year-old. The good: Defensively, he was extremely active. He pressured ball-handlers and kept one of his spindly limbs in the passing lanes at all times. Offensively, his scoring got going in the second half. He also authored a few impressive passes. The bad: His decision-making wasn’t always sufficient and he got tunnel vision at times. His slow start on offense was one of the reasons the Spurs failed to find a rhythm early.
Johnson had a great night on the offensive end. He poured in a career-high 29 points on 12-for-16 shooting from the field. His combination of patience and power on his drives proved deadly. When the Rockets gave him room, he dropped in a couple of threes. Defensively, he was stout individually and his hustle allowed the Spurs to retain a few loose balls. His help-defense, though, is still a work in progress. He’s learning when and how to rotate when he’s away from the ball.
Like DeRozan, Aldridge was 1-for-6 from the field in the game’s first three quarters. And just like DeRozan, Aldridge was able to come alive for a bit in the fourth. But his 3-for-4 shooting in the fourth didn’t compensate for all of his shortcomings on this night. He gave sporadic effort defensively but he didn’t do much positive on the perimeter or in the paint. His rebounding was also nonexistent. I liked that he kept firing away from three-point land but Aldridge was mostly a liability on both ends against the Rockets.
Lonnie Walker IV
After scoring 49 points in the last two games without DeRozan, Walker remained aggressive with DeRozan back in the lineup. His jumper looks good and he’s letting it fly whenever he’s met with an opportunity. He also had a few strong drives to the rim and a couple slick passes. Walker’s defense could have been more physical. Most importantly, he appeared to hurt his thumb and spent much of the final three quarters grimacing while struggling to dribble or even catch passes. Hopefully it’s nothing serious.
Mills has played very well this season but he wasn’t helpful tonight. He shot poorly — but it was more than his lack of accuracy that hurt the Spurs. He spent a lot of time interrupting the action to try to search out his own shots. His playmaking was also sub par. Defensively, the Rockets attacked him consistently and he rarely had an answer.
It was an impressive showing for the rook. Vassell played very good defense, both on the ball and off the ball. It sounds crazy to say he’s already the best defender on the team — but he already deserves to be in that discussion. He’s a playmaker on D and his rotations are almost always timely. Offensively, he also was able to get it going by remaining under control and not bailing out the defense. Vassell was 3-for-3 on two-pointers. That doesn’t sound noteworthy but coming into this game he was only 5-for-21 on twos to begin his rookie campaign.
Gay wasn’t able to assist the cause very much. He appeared to be especially landlocked tonight, which made it difficult for him to deal with Houston’s athletes. His shot-selection was decent and he helped out on the boards but the Spurs could have used more, especially with so many of his teammates sputtering.
Poeltl looked horrible early on. When he wasn’t airballing a layup, he was airballing a free throw. Thankfully, he was able to gain a bit of traction as the game progressed. He was helpful on the offensive glass and showed signs of life on defense. He now has four blocks in the last two outings after having three blocks in his first ten games. Hopefully that’s a sign that Poeltl is beginning to rediscover his stride.
Pop’s been excellent this year regarding keeping his veterans fresh and giving his youngsters a long leash — but that wasn’t the case tonight. I thought DeRozan and Aldridge played too many minutes, especially since they were struggling. Too many plays were drawn up for Mills, while Johnson and Walker were left to fend for themselves despite their impressive offensive outputs. The Spurs got too predictable down the stretch. A rusty DeRozan going mano a mano against a burly defender in PJ Tucker played right into Houston’s hands.
Welp, the Spurs will get another crack at the Rockets on Saturday. Houston will likely have more than nine players available, so the Spurs will have to play better if they are to avoid what would be a disheartening sweep.