Houston Rockets 96, San Antonio Spurs 95: James Harden hits a game winner.

Courtesy of SB Nation’s Mike Prada, that’s all there is to talk about this game.

Okay, not really.  A general summary of the game after the jump, and discussions about the real player of the game, who despite the aforementioned video, was not actually James Harden.

Yes, that’s right.  Harden put up 29 points on 16 shots, 6 assists, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 steals, hit the game-winner, had only 1 turnover…and he’s not my player of the game.  While Harden definitely played inspired, tough, smart basketball, and managed to get to the line, he was slow to get going during the first half.  While the Rockets consequently suffered problems on offense, their defense kept the Spurs close, thanks to arguably Omer Asik’s best game as a Houston Rocket.

Asik’s effort certainly didn’t show in his line at the box score as he finished with 5 points on 10 shots, but another statistic shows the amazing impact he had.  The San Antonio Spurs had 2 points in the paint at the end of the first quarter.  10 at the end of the first half.  Tim Duncan finished with 17 points on 18 shots and was twice utterly stuffed by Asik in the post.  Even at the very end, when San Antonio had 4.5 seconds to hit their own game winner, Asik played out on Tim Duncan and forced him into a difficult fadeaway which clanged off the rim.  It may not have showed in his points, or his rebounds, but Asik’s defense tonight was probably better than it had ever been at any point this season – and it has always been great.

The two of them were not alone in excellent games.  After heavily struggling offensively over the past several games, Patrick Beverley had his best game in a long, long time.  Even ignoring his 11 points and 3 assists, he had arguably the most important play of the game, where late in the fourth quarter, he raced down the court after a Manu Ginobilli steal, blocked an easy layup by Danny Green which would have put the Spurs up by 6 with 90 seconds left, which then turned into a Chandler Parsons 3 to pull the Rockets within 93-92 instead.  Donatas Motiejunas suffered from foul trouble throughout the game with 5 fouls in 16 minutes, but he scored and played well enough, while Greg Smith had an impressive poster over Tiago Splitter.

Yet despite the efforts of the Rockets, it was still an incredibly close-run affair throughout most of the game against a more talented team.  While Houston managed to shut down the Spurs for stretches and grabbed a 27-20 lead in the 2nd quarter and a 87-79 lead in the 4th quarter, in both cases the offense simply shut down and let the Spurs right back in this lead.  Duncan ( my current nominee for DPOY) did play well defensively, and Houston just had moments where they could not drive into the paint and relied too much on the whims of the officials.  Tony Parker, a MVP candidate in a universe where Lebron James tore his ACL in November, completely took over the game at the halfway point of the 4th quarter, scoring the last 12 points for San Antonio and forcing Jeremy Lin to the bench as the well-playing Beverley took his place.  Houston also was mediocre from the 3 point line tonight, as bad Delfino showed up and missed both of the 3 pointers he attempted.

Yet all of these deficiencies show what this team can accomplish.  In some ways, whether it was James Harden’s inspired performance and free throw shooting, or Asik’s defense, or Beverley playing like not just a backup, this team showed what its full potential could be, while in other ways such as 3 point shooting, they visibly struggled.  Yet all of this was enough to defeat San Antonio and offer a small glimpse of the bright future that Houston has going for it.

  • A slight note about Mr. Lin, who it should be noted was benched late in the 4th quarter for Mr. Beverley.  While his box score totals were generally unimpressive for the night as he finished with 6 points on 8 shots and 4 turnovers, Lin didn’t exactly play terrible tonight.  He did rely on his still shaky jumper a little more than he should have, but the Spurs better than practically than any other team in the league know how to handle mere slashers, which limited his options.  However, as Parker scored 6 of his final 12 points on Lin in only a little more than 60 seconds, Coach McHale opted to use a combination of Beverley and then Chandler Parsons to slow Parker down.  While Parker did score an additional 6 points, it was over the course of the remaining 4 minutes left in the game, and helped to bolster the Rockets defense.  When one combined that with Beverley’s excellent performance from the offensive end, I believe that it was the right course to take.
  • Thomas Robinson played 11 minutes tonight, and attempted 2 jumpers early in the shot clock for a reason I simply cannot comprehend.  Evidently McHale could not either, as Robinson did not play at all in the second half.  Similarly, Asik actually had 2 attempts outside the paint, though both of them were late in the shot clock.



About the author: The son of transplants to Houston, Paul McGuire is now a transplant in Washington D.C. The Stockton shot is one of his earliest memories, which has undoubtedly contributed to his lack of belief in the goodness of man.

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