Sunday January 30, 2011 1:49 AM

Spurs Send Rockets Reeling

San Antonio pulls away in the fourth, rolls to 108-95 victory

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

SAN ANTONIO - For three quarters, the Rockets stood toe to toe with the team boasting the best record in the NBA. They held their own and did what every underdog hopes to do on the road: hang tough and hang around long enough to have a chance to steal a win in the final frame.

In the fourth period, however, San Antonio showed off the sort of skill and shot making that has led them to such a sparkling start. And once the Spurs switched into high gear, the Rockets were powerless to keep up, ultimately falling 108-95.

The loss was Houston’s second in a row as it makes its way through its toughest road trip of the season – a stretch which still includes stops in Los Angeles to play the Lakers and Salt Lake City to play the Jazz. San Antonio, meanwhile, just keeps rolling right along, its record now at a jaw-dropping 40-7 as the club continues to build upon the best start to a season in franchise history.

“We were right there in the fourth quarter but they were too solid – they are too solid,” said Luis Scola, who was brilliant in defeat for the second straight game, totaling 23 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Rockets in both categories. “They’re the most solid team in the NBA – they’re the best team in the NBA, period. We missed a couple shots and made a couple mistakes and they just ran away from us.”

The game began with an offensive exhibition from both teams as the two old rivals took turns picking each other apart. San Antonio rode a 53-51 lead into the break by frequently carving up Houston’s defense with deft interior passing that led to a bevy of dunks and easy buckets. As a result, San Antonio racked up 32 points in the paint during the opening two quarters of play.

The Rockets refused to back down, however, putting just as much pressure on the Spurs’ D with plenty of precision passing and sharp movement of their own. Houston dished out 13 assists as a team on its way to connecting on 50 percent of its first half field goal attempts, and actually led for the majority of the opening two quarters until San Antonio snapped off a 12-0 run to seize the advantage before halftime.

And though the Spurs began tightening the screws defensively in the third quarter, Houston still managed to stay in the game thanks to the yeoman’s work turned in by Scola and Chuck Hayes. The two players combined for several big buckets and offensive rebounds, making sure the Rockets stayed within striking distance despite suffering through a period which saw them hit just 38.1 percent of their shots from the floor.

There were no heroics to be found for Houston in the final frame, however. Desperately needing stops in order to overcome their deficit, the Rockets instead gave up a slew of open 3-pointers and the Spurs were only too happy to capitalize upon Houston’s generosity, draining five of their eight attempts from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter. And on the few occasions when San Antonio did actually misfire, the Spurs were snagging offensive rebounds or getting to the free throw line.

Just like that, what was a close game transformed itself into a rout and the Rockets were left to rue the costly mistakes that led to their undoing. Chief among them was Houston’s propensity for handing the ball to the other team. Rockets Head Coach Rick Adelman had warned his troops before the game that they simply had to limit turnovers, lest the club subject itself to the Spurs’ potent transition attack. But for the second straight contest, the typically responsible Rockets made myriad mistakes with the ball, allowing the Spurs to tally a whopping 24 points off 17 Houston turnovers.

The Rockets also failed to maintain an aggressive mindset for the full 48 minutes, a fact borne out in the team’s meager free throw total. Houston earned just 16 free throws Saturday night while Kevin Martin, who typically lives at the charity stripe, was held without a single free throw attempt for the second time in the Rockets’ last three games. Martin said he somehow lost his rhythm following a red-hot start which saw him score 10 first quarter points with relative ease. But when such situations occur, as they will every now and then for even the most prolific scorers, Adelman says he'd like to see a greater emphasis on attacking the defense as opposed to simply settling for perimeter looks.

“You can’t settle for just taking long shots,” he said. “You’ve got to move the ball a bit better and I didn’t think we moved the ball as well as we needed to move it. They put pressure on us and we kind of gave into it.”

To be sure, the Spurs had a lot to do with that. There’s a reason, after all, that they’ve enjoyed the sort of decade-long success that has made them the NBA’s version of the NFL’s New England Patriots.

“They’re very similar,” said Shane Battier. “There are a lot of parallels between [Patriots Head Coach Bill] Belichick and [Spurs Head Coach Gregg] Popovich. They both demand execution and they both demand effort and their teams never seem to beat themselves.”

“I think it comes down to execution. To beat a team like San Antonio in San Antonio, you have to be solid and if you make mistakes, turnovers and bad fouls and allow them to score easy baskets, it makes these games extremely tough to win. We stayed with them in the first half by playing solid basketball, but the game got away from us and we allowed them easy buckets and free throws and it’s too tough to win that way.”

QUOTES

RICK ADELMAN
We played poorly in the second half, offensively especially. We missed shots and didn’t get back [on defense].

They’ve got two guys who attack and you just can’t afford to [turn the ball over]. It wasn’t so much any pressure, we just didn’t handle the ball very well.

(on Martin’s off night): You can’t settle for just taking long shots. You’ve got to move the ball a bit better and I didn’t think we moved the ball as well as we needed to move it. They put pressure on us and we kind of gave into it. Their guys put some pressure on our bigs and pushed us further out on the court and we didn’t take what the defense was giving us. We kind of just gave into it.

You have to keep playing. I thought Luis did and I thought Kyle did the same thing. They tried to fight through and that’s the attitude we have to have whatever the score is. That was our trait last year and it seems like we don’t have that consistently this year. We kept coming back on them but it’s an attitude that you have to have that you’re not going to give into anything.

KYLE LOWRY
(on the Spurs): They’ve got three potential Hall of Famers – they have champions on that team. They’ve got a great coach. They’ve been together a long time… they know how to win games.

SHANE BATTIER
They hit big shots to create separation. And when you’re playing from behind it’s tough because they don’t make mistakes that allow you back into the game. That’s a pretty classic Spurs victory.

I think it comes down to execution. To beat a team like San Antonio in San Antonio, you have to be solid and if you make mistakes, turnovers and bad fouls and allow them to score easy baskets, it makes these games extremely tough to win. We were with them in the first half and playing solid basketball, but the game got away from us and we allowed them easy buckets and free throws and it’s too tough to win that way.

(San Antonio similar to the New England Patriots?): They’re very similar. There are a lot of parallels between [Bill] Bellichick and Popovich. They both demand execution and they both demand effort and their teams never seem to beat themselves. When they do, you’re shocked.

LUIS SCOLA
We were right there in the fourth quarter but they were too solid – they are too solid. They’re the most solid team in the NBA – they’re the best team in the NBA, period. We missed a couple shots and made a couple mistakes and they just ran away from us.

KEVIN MARTIN
I just lost the rhythm. I don’t know how I lost it, but I just lost the rhythm.

(needed to be more aggressive?): No, at that point it was probably good for me to just pass the ball – I was so far out of rhythm. It was just one of those things, I guess. I just got out of rhythm. I don’t know why, I just did.

Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich
(On Richard Jefferson’s aggressiveness tonight)
“He (Richard Jefferson) was aggressive all night, he played well. He caught with the idea of trying to be a scorer whether it was shooting the ball or driving it. He did a good job the entire time he was on the court. He also did a good job on the defensive end.”

(On now that James Anderson is back what was he going to do with him)
“We’re just going to keep trying to play the way we’ve been playing. We’re going to try to improve and if there’s a spot for him it will show itself. We’re not going to force anything.”

(On what sparked things in the fourth quarter)
“We made some shots. Manu (Ginobili) knocked down those threes and Richard (Jefferson) hit a three; that kind of spread the game for us. We played pretty solid defense throughout the game, especially in the second half. I thought we did a good job on (Kevin) Martin, he’s impossible to guard. They (The Rockets) depend on him to get a lot of scoring done, so that helped us out.”

(On if 18 consecutive wins at home is comfortable to have)
“No coach or team thinks in terms of happy or comfort, those are not words that exist. You keep competing, executing and trying to improve. It doesn’t matter if you have the best record or the worst record.”

Spurs Guard Manu Ginobili
(On what sparked things in the second half and fourth quarter)
“Better defense. I think second half defense was very good. I don’t think they got as many offensive rebounds and we didn’t turn the ball over too much. We made a couple shots here and there and all those things compound makes a difference. We played pretty well in the first half. We just let them get too many offensive rebounds, turning the ball over and stuff like that.

(On if Richard Jefferson’s game is the best when he starts with a drive to the basket)
“Almost for every player, when you make a couple buckets early, it helps your confidence. I think today he was aggressive, he made some big shots, attacked the rim, run the fast break. That’s what we need and it’s his game and he did really well.”

(On the importance of getting a win tonight before the Rodeo Road Trip)
“Very important. We’re going to have nine on the road, the usual rodeo trip. It’s important to finish the last home game with a win. Houston for us is always a tough match up. They play hard, they know us very well, and it’s a team that I like. They’ve been struggling with injuries, but they are a tough team. We played a great second half.”

(On Tim Duncan’s outlet passes)
“It’s something that we talk a lot about in preseason and early in the season just trying to get the outlets higher so Tony [Parker] can push it. Tony is one of the fastest point guards in the league and we should be able to run even more. I think we did it very well the first 15 to 20 games and then we kind of stopped. Today I think it was better, I didn’t see the stats, but it is very important for us to get some easy buckets. We’ve got RJ [Richard Jefferson] who is a deer and George Hill is athletic too. It’s important to get some easy buckets, we need them.”

Spurs Forward/Center DeJuan Blair
(On if he could imagine having 40 wins before February at the beginning of the season)
“No. I mean knew we were capable of it, but I didn’t think we would be at 40 wins right now. I’m speechless right now because it’s just an honor to be on this team, to be on this quest to greatness, and we’ve just got to keep it going. It’s the middle of the season, we’re halfway. We still got half a season to go and then the playoffs to get to where we want to go.”

(On how tough the Rodeo Road Trip is going to be with three back-to-backs)
“Rodeo Road Trip, it’s going to be fun. We’ve got some tough ones too. It’s all about focus and playing well on the road. Hopefully we play well, I know we’ll play well. We got to bring our defense and our hard hats and just go hard because we’ve got some real good teams on the Rodeo Road Trip.”

Got a question for Rockets.com? Send it to Jason Friedman. And for up to the second news and injury updates follow the Rockets and Jason on Twitter.