Analysis and observations from the Rockets' 104-98 win over the San Antonio Spurs
- How is Dwight Howard’s ankle feeling these days? Why not ask Aron Baynes and the rest of the Spurs’ frontline for their response to that question after Houston’s All-Star center summarily ripped through them and had his way during the first half of tonight’s contest? Howard got on track early, bullying Baynes in the low post on his way to recording a hat trick of first quarter buckets that all came from his fancy footwork on the block. And by halftime, the bulge in Howard’s box score had (double-) doubled, as he finished the first two periods of play with a neat and tidy 12 points (on 6-of-6 shooting) that nicely accompanied his 11 rebounds.
All told, Howard helped Houston get off to its best start since last week’s game against the Lakers as the Rockets owned a 30-21 lead after one, and a 50-43 edge by the break. He and Terrence Jones, who came into tonight’s matchup averaging 17 points and 13 boards per game against the Spurs this season, did much of the heavy lifting in the early going. Jones tallied nine points in the first quarter alone, and his urgent close-outs (and length) played a significant role in the Rockets limiting San Antonio to a 1-for-11 first half effort from beyond the arc. The Spurs’ perimeter misfiring, by the way, continued a season-long San Antonio trend against the Rockets. Despite being the best 3-point shooting team in the NBA by virtue of their 40 percent hit rate from downtown, the Spurs hit halftime having knocked down a paltry 21 of their 80 triples versus Houston this season.
It should be noted that the Rockets weren’t exactly setting the world on fire from distance, either (Houston was just 1-of-10 on 3s in the first half). In fact, with the Spurs having nothing to play for given that they had already clinched home-court advantage throughout (which is why they rested Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Tiago Splitter and Patty Mills), tonight’s contest lacked for a little bit in the intensity department – until the last two minutes of the first half, that is. That’s when James Harden let everyone in the arena know just how much this game meant to him – and his team, of course – demonstrating his frustration at a non-call that had taken place moments before by emphatically lowering his shoulder and leveling Manu Ginobili in an act that was sure to get the officials’ attention (it did, as Harden deservedly picked up a technical foul on the play). And though Harden’s methodology might have been a wee bit overly aggressive, it certainly ensured that the rest of the contest would be played with considerably more fire the rest of the way.
- Prior to tonight’s contest, Chandler Parsons took the microphone to kick-off Fan Appreciation night and promptly told the sell-out crowd that he looked forward to clinching home-court advantage and starting the playoffs at Toyota Center. Then he spent the entire third quarter backing up those words with some actions that resonated as well, pouring in 14 points in the period – not too shabby for a guy who was considered a true game-time decision due to the sore wrist he injured last Friday night in Minnesota. Parsons splashed in a pair of triples during his scoring spree and the Rockets soon looked to have the game well in hand, opening up a 14-point lead as Tim Duncan and Tony Parker both retired to the bench prior to the end of the period, presumably done for the night after putting their requisite minutes in.
But come on, this is the San Antonio Borg we’re talking about here. Of course the game wasn’t over. Led by a quintet comprised of bench players and Marco Belinlelli, the Spurs just went about the business of executing their stuff with exquisite precision while suddenly rediscovering their shooting touch in the process. San Antonio closed the quarter with a 6-0 run that seemed harmless at the time before becoming downright ominous when the final frame began and that blip ballooned into a full-fledged assault on Houston’s attempt to clinch home-court. When all was said and done, the Spurs put together a 23-4 blitz that turned the game on its head and gave San Antonio a 5-point edge.
But just when it appeared as if the Spurs were going to spoil the party, Howard and Jones resumed their dominance against a San Antonio frontcourt that possessed neither the strength nor the athleticism necessary to adaquately deal with their freakish physical gifts. The two players combined to haul in 9 offensive rebounds tonight and those second chance scoring opportunities down the stretch effectively allowed Houston to stage its own rally and pull away late while recording a 104-98 victory. The win meant the Rockets wrapped up a season sweep of the Spurs for the first time since the 1988-89 season and, more importantly, put the finishing touches on ensuring that the Rockets’ postseason run will begin at Toyota Center this weekend.
Howard finished with 20 points (on 9-of-11 shooting) and 17 boards while Jones chipped in with 20 points as well in addition to his 11 rebounds. Parsons led all scorers with 21 points.
Next up for Houston: a now thankfully meaningless game Wednesday night in New Orleans during both teams’ regular season finale.
HOUSTON HEAD COACH KEVIN MCHALE
(On getting home court advantage) “We fought hard for it. It took a little longer than I hoped but we knew we had to get 54 wins and we got there with one to spare. I'm glad we didn't have to wait until Wednesday to try and get it. We started off playing really good defense. We ended up missing some shots but we were contesting some things. Both teams are good three point shooting teams. Neither team got any rhythm from the three point line at all. Chandler ( Parsons) made two. (Marco) Belinelli made two. Other than that everyone just shot blanks or one. It was a good win for us.”
(On controlling turnovers and defensive play) “It's always huge to not turn it over against that team because they get out and run. I thought for the most part we did a good job of our coverages. They (Spurs) got loose on some coverages where they got in the paint a lot. We were able to make some adjustments. I thought that Dwight...he and Terrence (Jones) had eleven rebounds between them and Omer (Asik) had eight rebounds in sixteen minutes. They did a nice job on the boards. That's what we needed to do and not turn it over.”
(On Dwight Howard's play) “He was nine for eleven. He was very efficient. He did a great job of the boards. He did a great job on the boards. He did a good job down there being big late in the game when we needed him to be. He finished off some plays around the basket. I was happy for him.”
(On production in the paint) “Terrence (Jones) got loose in the paint and was driving. We would get to the perimeter and put some pressure on them off the dribble. We did a pretty good job of attacking them for most of the night and getting the ball in. Dwight was very efficient in the paint. We ended up with sixty paint points. That's a lot of paint points but we make a point of emphasis to try and drive in there and get in there.”
(On locking down home court advantage) “We thought it was very important. For me, this being my second time in the playoffs from last year's experience I can tell it means a lot to have the home court advantage and just to have that energy behind you.”
(On his play against the Spurs this year) “I just try to come in and be aggressive every night. Versus them it has been a lot of positive energy for me. That's just coming from my teammates and me being aggressive.”
(On how they played tonight) “Tough game. Our offense was pretty good. We didn't make as many shots as we wanted to but the ball movement was pretty good. We played pretty good defense. No matter who they have on the court they play the same way. They are a tough team. We knew it was going to be a battle from the beginning.”
(On getting the home court advantage before the last game of the season) “Very important. We were all tuned in to the game last night in Portland and the Warriors. Which was a nail biter, very good game. Tonight we wanted to come out here and take care of business and not rely on our last game on the road.”
(On sweeping the Spurs) “They're the best team in the league as far as record-wise. It's a good job for us, but we have to focus on what's important now which is our brand of basketball going into the post season.”
(On the win) “I'm just happy we got the win. San Antonio is a dangerous team. As you can see it doesn't matter who is on the floor, starters, the second unit, third unit, those guys still can play basketball. They're very well coached. They have a great system so they are a great team. For us to come back in the fourth quarter and win is big for us.”
(On the Rockets securing home court advantage in the first round) “I think it's great. We locked down home court but at the same time we can't take that Portland team for granted. We have to come in really focused. They are not an easy team to beat. We have to really come out and focus and forget about what happened during the regular season.”
(On the win to clinch home court) “That's a huge accomplishment for us and playing in front of our home crowd really gives us an advantage and gives us energy and we feed off of that. So, this was a big win. Anytime you beat San Antonio, I don't know if we have ever beat them four times in a season but that's also huge and now we've got to rest up and get ready for Portland.”
(On the playoff series versus Portland and tonight's play against the Spurs) “We have a tough task with Portland but when you get to the playoffs you can scratch anything that happened before. We are comfortable with them and we are confident playing against them but they are still a great team and then they (Spurs) were resting guys tonight and let's not pretend they (Spurs) were at full strength. It was still a good win and we got home court and we would be comfortable seeing them in the second round.”
(On the Spurs) “The Spurs are a tough team. They have phenomenal players and a phenomenal coach. We have a lot of respect for them. Our focus was to come in and win this game and we did that. We had an early lead and we kind of let down. Our defense kind of picked things up and we were able to finish the game up so we are pumped.”
COACH GREGG POPPOVICH
(On the group he had out in the fourth quarter) “I thought they were great. It was a good night; we got the minutes we wanted to get for certain guys and got a lot of guys some extra minutes. Nobody got hurt, so it was a good night.”
(On if he’s happy where his team is health wise for the playoffs) “Absolutely. I gave Tony (Parker) a certain number of minutes and then iced him down. At this point, everybody’s got little bumps and bruises and that kind of stuff, but nothing serious.”
(On the game) “We were fortunate to hang in there at the end. We put in other guys that had that energy and they’ll get after it. The rockets came through it and they got their guys back in there and they did a good job.”
(On how he felt the team did) “We got out of the game exactly what we wanted, a good work out, a good game, good game situations, and we had a lot of guys get a lot of minutes. It was a perfect situation for us”
(On the Rockets) “Very good team, they have a lot of talent and they’re playing very well so we’ll see.”
(On what the team wanted to do) “We definitely did what we wanted to do, we were able to play everybody, no injuries, and we got a good sweat out of it. We did some good stuff and Houston got the win at the end.”
(On the Rockets) “It was a big game for them. They were trying to get home court advantage and we know they are a very dangerous team and will be a very tough team in the playoffs. They will have home court against Portland and they can potentially be a team we can play down the road.”
(On if the Spurs are ready for the playoffs) “Yes, definitely. We have one more game and will try to do the same thing. 15 or 20 minutes for everybody and make sure we stay in shape and be ready for either Saturday or Sunday.”
(On what they got out of the game) “Yes, pretty much what we wanted and now we have to get ready for the playoffs starting in a few days. We wanted to tweak a couple of things, offensively and defensively, and we did it.”
(On this years Spurs team from last years) “I feel pretty much the same, we were doing good last year and we had a great run during this regular season. We feel pretty confident.”
(On the Rockets) “They’re getting ready for the playoffs now. Of course they were fighting for the home court and they’re going to be pretty tough to play at home.”
Houston recorded another sold out crowd of 18,406 tonight. The Rockets extend the new single-season record for Toyota Center to 38 sellouts.
All five Rockets starters were in double figures combining for 89 of the Rockets 104 points tonight against the Spurs. This marks the 17th time this season that all starters finished in double-digit points with a win.
The Rockets have swept the Spurs for the first time since 1988-89. They are the fourth team ever and the second this season to sweep a 60-win team (OKC over Spurs 13-14, Boston over L.A. 72-73, NY over Det. 88-89).
The Rockets have clinched home court advantage against the Portland Trailblazers in the first round of the 2013-14 playoffs with this win tonight.
Dwight Howard finished with 20 points (9-11 FG, 2-4 FT) and 17 rebounds in tonight’s game. Against their first-round opponent Portland, Howard has averaged 25.5 PPG. His highest per-game average against all West opponents.
Terrence Jones completed the night with 20 points (7-12 FG, 6-7 FT), eleven rebounds and two steals. This is the 15th time Jones has finished with a double-double in a Rockets win this season.
Chandler Parsons contributed to the win with 21 points (7-17 FG, 2-7 3PT, 5-7 FT), seven rebounds and four assists. Parsons was one assist shy of collecting his 27th career 15-point, five-rebound, five-assist game.
Marco Belinelli led all Spurs in points with 17 (6-13 FG, 2-7 3PT, 3-4 FT) in tonight’s loss.
Tony Parker and Tim Duncan combined for 22 points (8-19 FG, 6-6 FT), 12 rebounds, three assists and two steals in only three quarters of action tonight for the Spurs.
The Spurs were +32 against the Rockets in bench points tonight (47-15).