Spurs twitter all but traded LaMarcus Aldridge over the last two days. I’ve seen and heard the local radio guy question the man’s work ethic, integrity, passion and skill.
That criticism is part of the gig, I suppose. You get paid like an All-Star, and you get criticized like one. Although Tim is getting the soft glow of retirement and memories now, I vividly remember the vitriol he received when he had bad games. My old boss bitterly complained about Tim being soft as Pop patted Tim’s knee after the squad got blown out in Game 4 of the 2005 NBA Finals.
“That’s a bad look. He needs Pop to kiss his boo-boo? Spurs are too soft.”
I tweeted that the adjustments after game one really came down to the Spurs playing better. That sounds like a silly thing to say when basketbloggers are out here doing Gif breakdowns and analyzing five-man lineup +/- numbers. I think it proved true.
Some of the analysis got it right when they looked at it with what Pop said about the game: it was the offense that hurt the Spurs the most.
Manu, Patty, Tony, Pau, and LaMarcus all mentioned pace, patience and playing smarter as keys to containing the Rockets.
So it was.
Pop started Pau, LMA was decisive, and the offense was more patient and disciplined. Oh, and Danny Green was hitting his open looks. The game is really simple, y’all.
The Spurs were able to slow the pace enough to force the Rockets to run their offense in the half-court instead of playing a glorified pick up game and walking into uncontested threes. The interesting thing was that Ryan Anderson still shot the hell out of the ball, and Clint Capela still got a few roll man opportunities. And Eric Gordon was scoring. The Spurs simply outscored them.
Rockets scores by quarter: 30, 25, 28, 13
Spurs by quarter: 33, 33, 23, 33.
I wrote that the Rockets really won game one in the second 1. The Spurs obviously won game two in the final period.
As you see, the team doesn’t need to completely shut down this Rockets squad, but merely slow them. Yes, obviously running good plays should result in buckets, but good looks are all you can ask for. Good shots mean predictable rebounds, and/or at least a chance to get the defense set. That’s essentially what happened tonight.
Pop started Gasol, and joked that it was not going to change the universe. It didn’t, but it allowed Gasol to do two things:
- Space the floor for Aldridge. Pau made them pay with an elbow jumper early. He also was shooting from three instead of passing it up.
- Protect the rim. Pau has long been decent at rim protection as long as he can simply stand there and be tall. The Rockets didn’t pull him into PNRs 2 and so he was able to thwart a Harden drive (block!) and a Capela roll early which set the tone. He finished with 13 rebounds and four blocks.
Aldridge was better, but not amazing. Shaq was calling for mid-twenties scoring as a benchmark but as I wrote in the series preview, I just want 18/10 from him. He had 15/8 tonight. 3 That’s enough. He was decisive, efficient, and made plays.
Obviously the elephant in the room is the Parker injury. He was great tonight, scoring 18 after getting harassed in the first game. He attacked Beverly and Lou Williams after misses, pushed the pace but also got buckets as an outlet man when the ball found him. Manu, Patty and Pop all suggested the injury is bad and will keep him out for a long while. That changes the calculus this postseason, as everyone will need to give more. Tony has been good thus far, with only two bad games of the eight.
Danny Green was light years better, not only hitting threes but defending well. He attacked Harden and got layups. When he is making midrange jumpers you know it’s a good night.
The centerpiece was obviously Kawhi, who put in work again. He had 34 on 13/16, 8 assists and 7 rebounds. Oh yeah and he didn’t foul Harden in all his minutes guarding Mr. Flop. For his part, Harden did not play very well, only managing 13 — a career low as a starter. He was sick and a bit hurt but he wasn’t the primary Spur killer in game one anyway. That sounds silly considering his line, but the theme of the Houston playoff run this year is the quality they have when Harden sits.
So let’s attempt to build this narrative. The Spurs did not allow as many threes, chased the Rockets off some others, and challenged more shots at the rim. Harden said he didn’t hit his layups, which was true. Some of that was him, some was Kawhi, and some was Pau and company making it difficult. That combination of things is how the Spurs will win. It’s subtle but basketball is about the trends, not an individual play here and there. The Rockets missing 5% of their shots changes the entire game.
This entire series has changed now that Parker is down. In the regular season the staff pressed Murray into service with good results. They aren’t playing Sacramento, however. Tony Parker isn’t his old self, but he was bringing calm, poise, and a renewed scoring punch. Also underrated? His defensive effort. He is not Beverley, but he makes his man work on offense. I believe in Dejounte Murray but I do not see him being ready to lead this team to the next round. He probably will get a quick look, but Pop will have the hook ready. Patty, some combination of Manu and Slo Mo will be the answer for now. And yes, Kawhi will be asked to do even more call handling.
The Rockets, Warriors and Mr Basketball IQ himself, LeBron are all too good to not take advantage of a rookie PG, no matter how unafraid of the moment he is. That said, it may not matter. He might get tossed into the fire anyway.
- Which makes all those clips of the game in the third and fourth less impactful to me. ↩
- I mostly mean the Rockets did not get Gasol out in space. They tried to pull him into the PNRs, but he stayed back in the lane and waited for Harden. Leonard is good at getting over those. Zach Lowe mentioned this as a change up — especially for Gasol. David Lee won’t be useful, because he’s not a rim protector. ↩
I wrote this:
When the Spurs accentuate their strengths, LMA is getting 15/9, making under-the-radar defensive plays, Kawhi is dominating, and shooters are feasting on open looks.