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Thursday February 2, 2012 0:58 AM

Spurs Rally Past Rockets

Houston sees 19-point lead slip away as San Antonio wins 99-91

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




HOUSTON - The Rockets rediscovered the energy and effort they’d been looking for. The desired result, however, eluded their grasp once again.

Houston saw a 19-point lead slip away in San Antonio Wednesday night, as a revitalized Tim Duncan rallied the Spurs to a 99-91 come-from-behind victory that doomed the Rockets to their second defeat in a row.

Eager to bounce back and get the bad taste out of their mouths from Monday’s miserable loss to Minnesota, the Rockets began Wednesday night’s contest by responding the best way they knew how. They dug in on the defensive end, expertly executed their offense and played with the sort of fire and passion that had been so glaringly absent two nights before.

For the first two quarters Wednesday evening, their laudable work rate was handsomely rewarded. Houston blitzed the Spurs on their home court and punished every San Antonio mistake with bucket upon bucket as the Rockets watched their lead balloon to 19. Birthday boy Kevin Martin couldn’t miss. Neither could his backcourt mate Courtney Lee. And better still, Houston’s defense was playing at perhaps its highest level of the season, stifling the Spurs’ high-powered attack by packing the paint and rotating along the perimeter with zeal and precision.

Of course, this being Rockets-Spurs, it was only a matter of time before the tide turned and an apparent blowout turned into a white-knuckle, nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat thriller – that’s just what happens whenever these two teams end up on the court together. And sure enough, San Antonio began its methodical march back into the game early in the third quarter after yet another Martin jumper had pushed the Rockets’ advantage back to 18.

But if the Spurs’ rally was not truly surprising, perhaps the approach they used to claw their way back was. It wasn’t the heat-seeking missile Tony Parker spearheading the attack, nor was it San Antonio’s array of long-range bombers. Instead, the Spurs went old school, feeding Tim Duncan in the low post every single time down the floor. Forget about the push-the-pace-at-every-opportunity San Antonio squad of a season ago; the Spurs went straight up ground-and-pound Wednesday and, much to the Rockets’ dismay, that strategy worked like a charm. With Duncan looking spry and seemingly fresh out of the WAYBAC machine, San Antonio took full advantage of its emotional leader’s 16 third quarter points by trimming its deficit to four by the time the game headed to the final frame, setting the stage for the same sort of frantic finish fans have come to expect from this rivalry.

Unfortunately for Houston, though the Rockets were able to stay afloat until the final moments, the team never could fully stem the tide. San Antonio, with Parker now assuming the reins of the Spurs’ offense, continued to have success scoring even while shifting to more of a drive-and-kick attack. The Rockets, meanwhile, hung tough by knocking down a slew of mid and long-range jumpers of their own. With 2:21 left to play, neither team had could claim any advantage as the two teams stood deadlocked at 91.

As a public service announcement of sorts, we like to remind people around here every now and then that the moment a game falls into this sort of situation, it essentially becomes little more than a 50-50 flip. So many random things happen on a basketball court that close games are often decided just as much by luck as they are skill and execution. A bad bounce, an unfortunate call – all of those things and so many more can determine the difference between winning and losing. And in the case of Wednesday night’s contest, the coin most definitely landed in the Spurs’ favor.

After Gary Neal gave San Antonio a two-point edge with a baseline floater, Kevin Martin missed a 3-pointer giving the Spurs a chance to take a stranglehold on the game. Instead, Parker missed a jumper of his own and Courtney Lee darted off on a one-man fastbreak with a chance to help his club tie or take the lead before colliding with Neal near the basket. It was a bang-bang play; the sort of call that could have gone either way. But unfortunately for Houston, the decision went in favor of the Spurs and so, ultimately, did the game. On San Antonio’s next possession Matt Bonner drained his lone triple of the contest, putting the Spurs solidly in the driver’s seat from that point on.

It was a disappointing defeat to be sure; the kind that will certainly keep Houston’s players, coaches and fans awake wondering “what if?” well into the wee hours. Conceding 60 second-half points and surrendering 20 turnovers will do that to you. So too, of course, will the agonizing shots that rimmed out and the calls that could have changed the complexion of the game. But those elements exist in almost every contest that’s decided in the final minute; all of which is why the best thing the Rockets can do going forward is to altogether avoid such situations in the future by holding onto that big lead and putting the game away sooner.

That's easier said than done of course, especially on the road against very good clubs like the Spurs. But if the you want to remove that element of luck out of the final reckoning, producing blowout wins is the surest way to do so. That's what great teams do. And it's what the Rockets must do also if they aspire to wear that label and achive the desired result.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

(Do you credit the Spurs for how the game turned around?)

“We had too many turnovers. We turned it over and we fed into that a little bit. They turned it up a little and we had to respond with more ball movement and more hard drives. They made some shots and made some things happen.”

(Was the team relying on Kevin Martin too much?)

“If he’s hot, you try to get him the ball.”

KYLE LOWRY

(Last couple of minutes of the game…)

“We needed to lock up and know what we were doing offensively and defensively. They made a big three and a couple of free throws. We missed open threes and open twos and we missed some shots down the stretch, but that happens. We got good looks but just could not convert on all of them.”

(Frustrating loss for the Rockets?)

“We’ll put it behind us tonight and build tomorrow. We will just keep on building.”

(Spurs energy…)

“They picked their energy up. They played with more enthusiasm, but we missed some shots down the stretch. They played good defense and made good shots down the stretch.”

LUIS SCOLA

(Frustrating loss for the Rockets?)

“We just have to let it go. We were able to hold (the Spurs) for the first couple of stretches when they were coming back, but then they closed the distance. When they came back and they tied the game, the momentum was on their side and they had the advantage towards the end.”

(Impact of Dalembert’s 4th foul…)

“I don’t think it is just that one thing. It is the whole game.”

(Second half difficulties…)

“It’s going to be harder. They are playing at home and they are not just going to let us beat them. They are going to fight back. We were holding them. We were up by 13 or 14 (points) but they shortened the distance. Then they tied the game and the momentum was on their side.”

GREGG POPOVICH

(When asked about his captains’ play tonight…)

“Tim (Duncan) and Tony (Parker) did a great job of leading the way for the whole group. I thought that everybody else followed. They never gave in, because Timmy and Tony didn’t allow them to. They did a fantastic team job tonight.”

(When asked about the charge late in the fourth by Gary Neal…)

“We had a couple of charges in the second half that really helped us. He (Neal) got back on defense very well. They got the benefit from it by getting in good position and taking the charge.”

(When asked about the matchup between Danny Green on Kevin Martin…)

“I think everybody worked their butts off to try to limit him. He’s (Kevin Martin) a heck of a player and one of the toughest guys to guard in the league. I thought they did the best they could. There’s no way you’re going to keep him down. He’s so skilled and he works so hard at it. They did everything they could.”

(When asked about the game in Houston where Pop sat some players in the first half … was there something you saw at the end of the second quarter that made led you to believe to go in a different direction…)

“I thought in the first half our defense was really solid. They made a lot of shots and we made some mistakes. The combination of them being on fire and us not being able to hit anything. That’s something you have to assess whether you think guys are playing poorly or if they’re playing well.”

TONY PARKER

(On the comeback win…)

"Yeah, it was a great win for us. Houston jumped on us as they shot the ball pretty well and everybody on their team was on fire. It was like they couldn't miss, so we just tried to stay in the game, hang in there, play defense and set some zones. Finally in the third quarter, they started missing shots and we made a run. It was a great effort from everybody to keep fighting.”

(On Tim Duncan in the paint in the third quarter…)

"Timmy looked great. He was in rhythm, he was very aggressive and made some great moves. He's looking good right now."

(On Pop pulling the plug in their last Houston match-up and if tonight looked similar…)

"Yeah, definitely. I was worried he was going to do that but he stuck with us and we were able to come back into the game. Timmy got into a good rhythm and was aggressive tonight. That was a good win for us."

(On if the older players wonder when Pop might pull the plug on a game…)

"No, I normally don't really think like that, but I thought that today since we have a back-to-back. Maybe I thought Pop was going to pull the plug and focus on New Orleans, but I'm happy we kept fighting. We stayed in the game and had an opportunity at the end to win it.”

(On their defense against Kevin Martin in the second half…)

"I think we did a better job. Danny Green and Gary Neal both tried to contain him and make him drive as he made so many shots in the first half. In the second half, I thought we played more physical and were able to contain him as a team and force him to drive towards Timmy or Tiago.”

(On if they changed the approach on Kevin Martin…)

"Yeah, a little bit. We were more aggressive and tried to make him drive."

TIM DUNCAN

(On if the comeback from tonight resembled the game against Dallas last week…)

"You know, I think we learned a lot from their game. It provided a lot of experience for our bench and for our team as well our confidence. I thought we played well last game. We just didn't have a good start this game. I think we turned the corner a little bit, it didn't show in that first half, but I think we're playing better basketball right now. It was good to comeback and it was great to get this win as we know we have a big one tomorrow too.”

(On what worked so well in his attack of the paint in the third quarter…)

"Exactly that, I was just trying to be aggressive. I was trying to get in the paint as they were staying locked up on our shooters. They weren't double-teaming so I got a chance to attack a little more, get in the paint, and make some shots. I felt good that quarter and just kind of made it work."

(On if he was happy Pop let him play in the second half…)

"Yeah, I was happy to be on the floor. Like I said, it was a great comeback and a great win for us."

(On if the team turned up the intensity in the second half…)

"You know what; honestly I thought we played pretty well throughout. They made some contested shots throughout that first half, as we stayed with it and continued to fight through screens and contest. At the end, it turned our way a little bit. All in all, I thought we played pretty good throughout."

(On Pop resting him on back-to-back games…)

"I don't think about that. I'm not worried about that, as I hope it doesn't come to the point where I need to take a day off. I feel pretty good right now and I'm not resting or saving for any other game. I'm just going to play whatever game is in front of me.”

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