In the aftermath of the past game against Dallas, there were worries about how well the Asik-Howard lineup would work given that the results were not exactly the best. That, however, was arguably the worst case scenario, as Asik was still recovering from his calf injury and the presence of Dirk Nowitzki means that Dallas is possibly the worst possible team to use Asik-Howard. Against San Antonio, this is not the case, as neither Duncan nor Splitter are great jump shooters.
The result? Better than any words that I can write, one single statistic can sum up the potential impact of playing both center together. For the first 8 minutes of the third quarter, where Asik-Howard played and Houston blew the game open, the San Antonio Spurs, with an All-NBA First Team big man in Tim Duncan, failed to score a single point in the paint. Not one point. And over the relevant portions of the game, San Antonio managed to score only 22 points in the paint before they boosted it to a still pathetic 30 points when Kevin McHale threw Greg Smith out there for the last 7 minutes of play. It was a dazzling display of defensive dominance.
Of course, most of the arguments that Asik-Howard cannot work have focused on the offensive end, under the idea that two big men who both cannot shoot and are not great passers can work together. However, the third quarter showed that the team can work offensively even playing that lineup. After a lackluster first half, Harden erupted during the third quarter. His jump shot started failing, which opened up more room for him in the paint than what the Rockets centers closed off, and Houston’s offense ensured that the ball was always being passed to the right place, whether it was to shooters like Parsons in the corner or to the center for putbacks and dunks – the “offensively challenged” lineup of Beverley-Harden-Parsons-Howard-Asik scored 25 points in less than 8 minutes. San Antonio kept pace with the Rockets for the entire first half, due to sloppy play in the first quarter (Houston finished with 13 turnovers for the game, but 7 of them occurred in the opening period) and the Spurs’ jump shooters heating up in the second. But once the Twin Towers completely and totally shut down the paint in the 3rd quarter, Houston went on a rampage, and in the process, showed how this team can win without any trade scenarios for Ryan Anderson or Jeff Green.
- The one problem with the big men in tonight’s game was Mr. Howard’s post-ups. Howard had 5 post-up attempts in the first half, when the game was relatively close. All 5 of them failed, and 4 of the post-ups turned into turnovers. When asked about it during the TNT Coach’s Corner, McHale blew it off by stating that 2 of the turnovers were passes to Asik which the Turkish center bobbled, but it is problematic given Howard’s interest in post play. Howard did a much better job receiving passes from Harden and Parsons and finishing, as he did manage to finish with 15 points on 10 shots and gobbled up 16 rebounds.
- Lin did not have a great boxscore result, but there were definite positives to be taken from tonight’s game. The biggest? He actually went left, and finished successfully in the process while using his left hand as opposed to the normal “switch to the right hand at the last moment” which he does far more often. Lin’s stat line, where he finished 3-9 with 11 points for the night, was due to him repeatedly challenging the larger San Antonio defenders at the rim. While he failed to budge them more often than not, this aggressiveness is important for Lin, who so many times last season was more than willing to stand around and turn into Mario Chalmers part deux as Harden rampaged around the rim.
- After two sub-par scoring games against Dallas and Orlando, Omri Casspi bounced back in a big way, managing 16 points on 11 shots. But what was really impressive was Casspi’s effort and defense. For lack of a more creative word, Casspi fights. He fights with power forwards that are bigger and stronger than he is, denying them position and slowing the San Antonio offense. He is fully capable of handling lesser bigs like Jeff Ayres or Aron Baynes, and against tougher big men like Duncan who are too much for Casspi? Well, that’s all the more reason to ensure that Asik stays around.
- In both the Dallas game and tonight’s game, Coach McHale seems to be using an 8-man rotation, with Beverley, Casspi, and Garcia serving as the main bench role players. I expect Terrence Jones to play spot minutes once he returns from his shoulder injury, but with the regular season beginning in four days, it’s clear that Houston really possesses a versatile lineup. There are finishers, there are defenders, there are shooters, there are passers, there are rebounders, and there are two superstars. Houston isn’t a championship favorite, and frankly it will never be as long as King James reigns in South Beach. But the preseason has shown that it really is a team that can do quite a bit of damage.