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Past, Present and Future

December 28, 2012 11:30 pm EST

HOUSTON - In a game that may well have featured the past, present and future of the Southwest Division, San Antonio showed why it still rules the roost while the Rockets put forth a performance that proved its day atop the pack may be coming sooner than expected.

The Spurs’ Big Three of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker turned in a vintage showing Friday night, leading their club past Houston 122-116 during a wild shootout in the Alamo City. The trio combined to score 84 points and thwarted every single Rockets rally with the same sort of fundamental, electric and unstoppable skill they’ve used to help fuel San Antonio’s run as the NBA’s gold standard for more than a decade.

Yet Houston was able to hang around and withstand so many of the Spurs’ attempted knockout punches thanks to a young core that has so rapidly come together and displayed a burgeoning brilliance of their own. James Harden continued his dynamic December march to superstardom by piling up 33 points and seven assists, prompting Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to label him “impossible to stop.” Jeremy Lin seemed quiet in comparison until one takes a peek at his stat-stuffing totals that included 21 points, eight assists and four steals. Then of course there was Chandler Parsons shrugging off a sore shoulder and knee that “limited” him to a night of 11-15 shooting, 24 points, eight rebounds, five assists and the most spectacular chase down block of the Rockets’ season to date.

Just in case you’ve forgotten: Parsons and Lin are the elder statesmen of that threesome at the ripe old age of 24.

No, there is no such thing as a feel good loss, especially for a Rockets team that came into Friday’s game riding a five-game winning streak compiled against playoff caliber competition. What Friday’s defeat was, however, was a reminder: of what Houston must do – namely, cut down on turnovers and make significant strides defensively – to take the next step in its effort to one day rise to a level equal to or greater than that of the Spurs; and also of just how far the Rockets have come in such a short amount of time.

The first meeting between these two teams in San Antonio on December 7 resulted in a 22-point destruction at the hands of the Spurs. After conceding 41 first quarter points to San Antonio Friday night, it appeared as if the Rockets might be in for more of the same. Instead Houston’s players regrouped, played with poise and pace, and made sure San Antonio was forced to fight until the bitter end to ensure victory. At first blush, seeing such improvement in just a scant three weeks seems surprising. But given everything the Rockets have recently accomplished and the rapid growth rate they’ve shown both on an individual and collective level, such an achievement hardly even merits so much as a raised eyebrow these days.

To be sure, the Rockets remain very much a team with an eye toward the future. But with every passing day, even those that result in difficult to swallow defeats, this club and its ascending young core is giving fans – and fellow Southwest Division rivals – ample reason to believe that future could arrive faster than anyone could have anticipated.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

I was proud of the guys, they battled back. We missed a few looks and had a few turnovers – turnovers were the bugaboo for us all night long; we just couldn’t overcome all the turnovers. We can’t turn the ball over 24 times on the road and expect to win.

(what about the tempo of the game?)

Well we’re going to play fast and they’re going to play fast, so it’s going to be fast paced.

JEREMY LIN

(On the fast pace of the game…)

“I think we’re the top two teams in the league when it comes to pace. Today was definitely a fast one. That’s both of our styles.”

(On the Spurs pulling away in the fourth quarter…)

“I just think we worked too hard to get back into the game and we didn’t do a good job. They shot 67 percent and we had a ton of turnovers. Starters had a ton of turnovers. I had a ton of turnovers. I think we made it too easy and we spent a lot of energy trying to get back in the game and at some point it just ran out.”

(On the way the strategy changed after James Harden’s fifth foul…)

“It didn’t change. We just stayed aggressive and tried to keep playing the same way. Move the ball and let the system flow.”

(On the Spurs’ bench...)

“They keep the waves coming and coming. They definitely used a lot of bodies. They did a great job. They came out with a ton of energy. Patty Mills was a big difference maker tonight.”

JAMES HARDEN

(On the change in his game after his fifth foul…)

“It changed the entire game. It gave me five fouls. I had to come out. I had to play a lot more hesitant. It just changed the entire game. Especially the type of player I am, I’m aggressive and I like to play aggressive.”

(On the Spurs pulling away in the fourth quarter…)

“It wasn’t hitting a wall. It was a variety of things. It’s missing shots. It’s turning the basketball over. I think overall we had a pretty good game. We did some good things and stayed in it for the majority of the game. It’s just a couple errors we got to change to get better for tomorrow.”

(On playing Oklahoma City tomorrow night…)

“They’re a great team as well. We played a great team tonight. We play a great team tomorrow. We have to bring our A games. We have to limit our turnovers and make the right plays on offense and defensively get some stops coming down in transition.”

Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich

(I know a lot of points were scored, but can you talk about your defense in the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter…)

“Well, we got a group out there that did an excellent job of both sprinting back in transition, showing a crowd in full court shell and getting guys off the three point line.  But, other than that period, we were pretty poor in that respect and that’s Houston’s game.  That’s why they’re kicking everybody’s butt and scoring all these points.  But that group got us on track and we got stops and we got a lead and hung on to it.  But, it was because of that.”

(Talk about your matchup against (James) Harden tonight…)

“It’s always a tough matchup.  He’s a great player.  Offensively, he’s impossible to stop and he proved it tonight.  In that period where we just mentioned, we had a group out there that did a great job in the full court shell and not letting him penetrate, getting him off the three point line.  It really helped us to get a little bump and get the lead.”

Spurs guard Tony Parker:

(On the defense in the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter...)

“I think that was our best defense in the game. For three quarters we had a rough time. They were playing well, moving the ball and making shots. Of course James Harden was playing great."

(On the pace of the game and if is puts pressure on the offensive side to score...)

"Definitely. It was very up-tempo tonight and I personally love it but we have to get stops. There was a point where we knew we would have to get stops to win the game and we made them in the fourth quarter."

(On looking ahead to the Dallas game on Sunday...)

"We know they are going to play with a lot of energy with them being at home. We beat them pretty good here so we have to make sure to match their energy. It is always tough to play a team like that but we are going to have to be ready."

Spurs guard Manu Ginobili

(On his play tonight along with Tim Duncan and Tony Parker...)

“They were unbelievable tonight. I had a nice stretch early in the third quarter but those guys have been great all season so I kind of joined in on the scoring today. The main thing is that we beat another great team that has been rolling."

(On the importance of the defensive stretch early in the fourth quarter...)

"It was huge because we went up 13 after being tied almost the entire game. That stretch opened it up for us because our defense was more aggressive."

(On the pace of tonight's game...)

"It was fast, especially late in the fourth when they really started to push the ball and we just could not keep up. That is the way they have been scoring, but on a five-on-five set it is harder for them to score."