Posted: 11:23 p.m. Sunday, March 24, 2013
By J. Gomez (Edg5)
This one didn't start like most people would have imagined. The Rockets are a great offensive team that likes to push the pace and the Spurs are no slouches on offense, either. But for the entire 1st quarter it was defense that set the tone. Both teams were packing the paint to avoid dribble penetration, which made it hard for their stars to get going. James Harden and Tim Duncan both forced the action a bit en route to a six and seven point first quarter, respectively, because their teams needed them to.
The second quarter saw the Rockets' defense begin to crumble while the Spurs' mostly held. Patrick Beverly and Carlos Delfino kept the offense afloat for the home team while Kawhi Leonard and a surprisingly aggressive Boris Diaw carried the Spurs for the most part. Both teams moved the ball well, but the Spurs' defense was contesting well and kept the Rockets scoreless for three and a half minutes. After getting a lead of nine points, the Spurs couldn't close the quarter well, scoring only three points in the last 3:26. Going into the break, the score was 46-43 Spurs, which seemed low considering the firepower both teams have.
After realizing that playing at the Spurs' pace was not a winning formula, the Rockets started pushing the ball up court as quickly as they could. They went small with Delfino at the four, goading the Spurs to try and take advantage of the match up on offense. That killed the ball movement and with no scoring coming from the bench, and the three pointer not falling, the Spurs just couldn't hang with a revitalized Rockets' offense, woken from its slumber by a scorching hot James Harden and his 12 points in the period. Going into the final quarter, the Rockets were up seven, 74-67.
But just like the Rockets' star, Tony Parker came alive in the fourth. Parker was aggressive and even went on an 8-0 run of his own, using the fact that the refs were calling the game tight to get to the line and to the hoop at will against a porous Rockets defense that only had one big on the court. The Spurs pulled away by four off a Parker bucket with 1:50 to go. Parsons then hit a huge three to get the Rockets to trail by only one. Parker extended the lead again to three and Harden missed one of the three free throws he earned after Kawhi Leonard clumsily fouled him on a three point attempt.
Instead of going to its star like most team do, the Spurs decided to run their offense during the final minute of the game. Ginobili and Duncan ran a pick and roll that left Duncan with a good look at the basket in the paint, but his runner missed. Since the refs couldn't decide who touched the ball last after it went out of bounds, they went with a jump ball that Duncan tipped the Spurs' way. Once again, the Spurs ran a play that left Kawhi Leonard with a pretty open corner three, but the shot hit the side of the backboard and the Rockets got it back.
Taking a more traditional approach, the Rockets had Harden inbound the ball, get a hand-off/screen from Asik and attack a back-pedaling Duncan. Harden pulled up and hit the tough jumper. The Spurs tried to run the same back door play that worked against the Warriors a few weeks back, but the Rockets were ready for it and Duncan had to take an off balance jumper instead. It missed. Ball game.
So with this loss, and the Thunder win over Portland, the Spurs still lead the West but are now only 1.5 games ahead. The good news is, Tony Parker seems to be fully recovered and there are still a few games left to get everybody on the same page.
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