By: Rahat Huq
I grabbed the above clip from the ringer.com as for some reason, NBA.com did not have this play in its game archive last night. While the block by Kawhi Leonard at the end drew all the headlines, I thought this possession was just as important primarily due to its long-term consequences. The Rockets and Spurs are currently on a collision course to meet in the second round of the postseason where both coaches will have important decisions to make. (As I tried to tweet this morning--impeded by the 140 character limit--games like that one are where you wake up the morning after feeling the most consolation that your coach is a legendary genius capable of recognizing adjustments. It's a new feeling in the Harden era).
As we saw, the Spurs started the game out by having their big men drop back in pick and roll coverage, leading Harden to attack the rim and resulting in nearly uncontested lobs for Clint Capela. They tried switching LaMarcus Aldridge or Dewayne Dedmon onto Harden, and that ended very poorly as well for the Spurs.
The Spurs' best option was when Leonard covered Harden and fought over screens. He's fast enough to fight over, and obviously gives them the best chance against Harden in the event of an isolation. Above, after fighting over, Leonard breaks up the play by deflecting the pass to the roll man, a set that was resulting in easy baskets all night when Kawhi was not involved. Leonard had started the game on Ryan Anderson, with the intent of discouraging Anderson-Harden pick and rolls.
If the Spurs commit Leonard to Harden for the entirety of the game, they run the risk of wearing him out over the course of the series; they are still extremely reliant upon his offensive production. But if they plant him on someone else like Anderson, the Rockets can take him out of the play entirely. This is also where having Eric Gordon and Lou Williams will be essential. If Harden is bottled up by Leonard, Houston will need its secondary playmakers to pick up the slack. On Monday night, neither of those guys showed up.