In a battle of the two teams at the bottom of the standings in the Western Conference, the San Antonio Spurs pummeled the Houston Rockets by a final score of 124-105. The Spurs dominated the action outside of the second quarter. In the three other periods, San Antonio outscored Houston 99-71.
The Spurs played a much more synchronized style of basketball than the Rockets did and looked like an actual team out there. Considering that the Spurs were without Keldon Johnson (back) and Josh Richardson (personal), this was an impressive road win.
Proponents of tanking won’t like this win but, as it turned out, the good guys had too many players performing well to lose to a fellow cellar dweller. Sure, it helped that the Spurs hit 17-of-34 three-pointers and the Rockets hit only 5-of-24 three-pointers — but a leading reason for the disparity was the fact that San Antonio was passing the ball much better.
Spurs vs. Rockets – Final Grades
Vassell got to try his hand at being San Antonio’s go-to scorer — and the results were fantastic. He scored a super efficient 26 points and also handed out five assists. He rarely forced shots, made the Rockets pay when they focused too much on him and moved well away from the ball to create wide open three-point looks. After hitting just 29.6% of his threes over his last five games, it was great to see Vassell hit 5-of-8 long balls tonight. Defensively, I thought he was really solid against the Rockets, particularly in the second half.
Foul trouble plagued Poeltl on this night. In 23 minutes, he finished with five fouls. Other than the fouls, Poeltl was fine. He is still searching for the rhythm and dexterity he had before his injury but the production is coming along nicely. Poeltl led the Spurs with a pair of blocks and his boxing out was reliably sturdy.
Jones wishes he could play the Rockets every game. Due to Houston’s undisciplined ways on the defensive end, Jones can basically fly around and do whatever he wants when going against Houston. Tonight, he was a monster in transition, passed the ball really well and attacked the basket with purpose. If he would have shot better from three-point land (1-for-5), he would have been even more beastly. As it was, I’m glad that Jones is still shooting threes even though he has struggled from deep in recent weeks.
The bad: Bates-Diop missed a few shots he usually makes in his sleep. He also had a few sloppy possessions with the ball. The good: Bates-Diop was stout in every other department. He played defense, he passed it really well, he rebounded with gusto and he was hustling in loose ball situations.
Langford has battled various injuries and illnesses lately but he was back in the lineup and helped the squad as the starting small forward. He brought attentiveness and electricity to the defensive end. Offensively, Langford was a bit subdued but he didn’t hesitate to take advantage of the opportunities he stumbled upon.
Sochan made headlines for shooting free throws one-handed. While that was indeed a notable turn of events, it overshadowed a really strong performance by the rookie. Tasked to run the team as the backup point guard, Sochan once again looked like a fish in water. He lost control of the ball a couple of times but he mostly looked like a big human being who is capable of creating shots for himself and others. In addition to flashing playmaking skills, Sochan also rebounded well and applied exhaustive pressure on the defensive end.
I really liked the energy that Collins played with against the Rockets. Yes, he turned it over too much (four times, to be exact), but his mistakes were forgivable due to his vivacity. Collins could almost always be found running the court hard, establishing low post position and providing his teammates with angles to get the ball into the post. Once he had the ball, he either looked to score against smaller defenders or made a smart pass. Collins also played good defense and rebounded the ball well.
McDermott never stopped moving and never gave a second-thought to unleashing a shot whenever he had a smidgen of room. His maniacal movement and his itchy trigger finger created a ton of space for teammates to operate. McDermott mixed in a couple heady passes to keep the defense honest. On the other end, he was able to hide better than usual.
Don’t look now but it appears as if Branham’s season-long slumber has come to an end. A game after scoring 12 points against the Heat, Branham notched a new career-high with 14 points against the Rockets. As was the case versus Miami, the rookie played with unbridled confidence and looked to be hunting opportunities to score. That’s a huge difference from earlier in the season when he would actively shy away from looking to put points on the board. Branham still has work to do defensively and was messy with his passes against the Rockets — but it looks like he’s starting to piece things together.
Johnson’s first game in the rotation couldn’t have gone much better. Defensively, he was burly in the paint, moved his feet really well on the perimeter and offered timely help. It’s clear he’s already one of the team’s best defenders. Offensively, Johnson was very good. He’s quietly a really good passer for a forward and those passing skills were on full display against the Rockets. He can also handle the ball a bit, which is a welcome bonus for this edition of the Spurs. Scoring-wise, Johnson scored 10 points and sank 2-of-3 threes. If he can keep playing as efficiently and as smart as he played tonight, it’s going to be difficult for Pop to keep Johnson out of the rotation.
The Spurs got a sizable road win without Keldon Johnson and Josh Richardson. Pop deserves a slice of the credit. His rotation made a lot of sense. I like Sochan at point guard. Giving Branham time after his breakout game against the Heat was smart. Putting Johnson in the rotation paid immediate dividends. The play-calling for Vassell helped get him going. All in all, it’s difficult to find fault in anything Pop did tonight.