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Houston Rockets @ San Antonio Spurs on 12/25/2013

I thought this year would finally be the year the Spurs were no longer invincible.

They had come off that nightmare-inducing Finals.  Duncan was 37, the age at which Hakeem, Shaq, and currently Garnett entered a stage of interminable decline.  Ginobilli had looked terrible throughout the entire playoffs, and the West looked to be tougher than ever with the rise of Golden State and the Rockets.  How would the Spurs manage? Not well, as I predicted that they would struggle to grab the 4th seed.

Well, today the San Antonio Spurs are the 3rd best team in the Western Conference with a 22-6 record.  Shows what I know.

While the Spurs have looked as timeless as ever, the roles of the big 3 of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobilli have diminished.  Gregg Popovich has cut their minutes to the point that they barely play 30 minutes a game, but he instead relies on an incredibly deep bench and team-based basketball to do the job for him.  They rarely iso, and prefer to rely on cuts and screens to get their myriad of jump shooters open, especially on the corner 3’s.  This, more than any other team in the league, is where Houston’s much maligned perimeter defense must pull themselves together if they want to stop the Spurs’ attack.  The 3 point attack of Golden State and Portland have been the subject of much discussion throughout this season, but San Antonio is the league’s 3rd best 3-point shooting team and practically tied with those teams (.405 to.403 to .402).

Key point of the game: Howard’s post game

Rahat mentioned during the game against Dallas how the development of Dwight Howard’s post game is more important than any one victory or defeat.  But it is one thing to put up amazing numbers against Andre Drummond, who still needs work on defensive fundamentals despite his gaudy blocks, or the Dallas mess at center.  It is another thing to face the best big man since Hakeem.  Howard was pretty quiet last time against San Antonio, but he only took 6 shots while Harden led the Rockets to victory with 31 points.  But with James hobbled by his ankle, the pressure will be for Howard’s offense to carry the team in his biggest challenge yet.

Injury Report:

While Harden has missed the past two games, he has stated that he hopes to be ready for this game, though his status will likely be a game time decision.  Asik and Greg Smith will likely be out.  Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs, thanks to their low minutes, will be perfectly healthy, making a troubling matchup even more dangerous.

Rotation Spotlight:

 Marco Belinelli

Marco Belinelli

If anyone symbolizes San Antonio’s strategy of screens and team basketball, it is Marco Belinelli.  The recently signed Spurs guard is shooting over 50% from long range this season, and just this past Thursday went off for 28 points against the Golden State Warriors.  Belinelli is very much the sort of shooting guard which gives a healthy Harden fits, as he likes to run around with screens until he gets open – and Harden is not healthy.  Pay special attention to his first few shots, as Belinelli is very much a hot or cold sort of player.  Out of San Antonio’s 28 games, he has only had 5 games where his FG% is in the 40s, as it continually fluctuates from games where he looks unstoppable like against the Warriors to San Antonio’s last game against the Raptors, where Belinelli went 2-7 and missed all five of his 3 pointers.

 Game tips off at 7:00 Central time on ESPN.

Also on a lighter note, if anything symbolizes the transition away from the big 3, check out their most recent HEB commercial with the debut of Kawhi Leonard.  Makes me nostalgic for Texas again.

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About the author: Write for a living, though not in sports. Been following the Rockets my whole life, with Stockton’s shot being my first memory. Consequently traumatized.

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Total comments: 30
  • SDrake says 9 months ago

    Harden gets more open looks when he's out there with Lin. Without Lin it seems like most of Harden's looks are contested. Lin also finds Terrence Jones around the basket and in transition too, there's definitely some chemistry between Lin and Jones. I'm not surprised considering I remember Morey saying Lin's passes lead to a very high conversion rate--Lin basically spoon-feeds players extremely well.

    I really liked Lin's 7 or 8 (I forget the exact amount) assists last night. With Beverley there have been very few assists from the PG position. Assists mean the ball is being moved and they're playing a team game. Ball movement is where the offense looks its best and where they had their success last year.

  • linonlyfan says 10 months ago

    The great assists seem to come with some risk, I remember seeing 2 great passes to Jones in transition. One was a ultra clean touch pass which put the ball way ahead of the Spurs transition defense for Jones to easily pick up and finish, the other was a much riskier off dribble bounce pass between 2 Spurs defenders into a Jones cut behind 3 Spurs which looked like 25% (unfair?) of the time would have been a turnover.

    What was great was the lack of real boneheaded turnovers resulting from a crazy drive into the paint or a 50/50 pass ahead. (he had the one in the first quarter where he almost got immediately pulled?) Some of the assists were absolutely gorgeous including a no look handoff to a transition Dwight Howard who was beating Duncan down the floor.

    Overall Lin's desire and ability to push the ball hard in transition seems to be something Beverley can't do yet and did seem to make a big difference to the team, especially in the first unit which has much more potent transition players vs the current Garcia/Casspi/(Asik?) 2nd unit. This definately raises some rotation issues because the 2nd unit needs some playmaking and they will need Harden, Parsons or Lin to extend minutes to ensure the 2nd unit doesn't cause the offense to grind to a halt.

  • Chai says 10 months ago

    Just rewatched the game. Feel like whenever theres a PnR with Parker & Duncan/Splitter, the big is falling back a lot more than usual instead of hedging. Lin was also doing a great job going over the screen and not allow open 3s.

  • 2016Champions says 10 months ago

    Harden gets more open looks when he's out there with Lin. Without Lin it seems like most of Harden's looks are contested. Lin also finds Terrence Jones around the basket and in transition too, there's definitely some chemistry between Lin and Jones. I'm not surprised considering I remember Morey saying Lin's passes lead to a very high conversion rate--Lin basically spoon-feeds players extremely well.

  • rm90025 says 10 months ago

    We all talked about Lin's big defense, TJ's rebounds, Parsons's hot shooting, and Dwight's presence. But the key to the game is Harden played team ball first 3 quarters. He went back to hero mode in fourth but with his skill and luck we win big. I thought for a moment that his ISO would ruin the Christmas

    In my view,Harden played well because he shared PG duties with Lin and played more like a SG, which is where I think he excels.He was fresher in the 4th quarter because he allowed others tomove the ball and he was able to go off on a mini-run to put the game away.

  • 2016Champions says 10 months ago
    ...every time Houston appears to have turned a corner, the Rockets fart out a complete dud like their stinker in Indiana on Friday.

    - Zach Lowe

    This is why I don't get too excited about our wins. We need to start going on long win streaks, and show more consistency, before I get more excited and start putting things into a historical context.

    We have 2 upcoming games against OKC (Dec. 19th and Jan. 16th), and both games are the back end of a b2b for us. If we win both those games, and don't have anymore embarrassinglosses until then, I will get pretty excited.

  • rocketrick says 10 months ago

    Duncan-Parker-Ginobili-and several other notable playerslose twice in early 2013-14Seasonin San Antonio to the new Houston Rockets teamthat have barely played together as a team.

    Maybe I'm just making this up but it's true so whatever

  • 2016Champions says 10 months ago

    It was just one win, what was historical about it?

  • rocketrick says 10 months ago

    Why not discuss a great historical Rockets Win.

    Instead, just a bunch of whiney bunch of wannabees IMO

  • 2016Champions says 10 months ago

    Harden and Dwight's hug after the game

    hardendwight.gif

    Looks like Dwight wanted to cuddle a little bit and got shut down lol

  • Richards says 10 months ago

    We all talked about Lin's big defense, TJ's rebounds, Parsons's hot shooting, and Dwight's presence. But the key to the game is Harden played team ball first 3 quarters. He went back to hero mode in fourth but with his skill and luck we win big. I thought for a moment that his ISO would ruin the Christmas.

  • SadLakerFan says 10 months ago

    It was a good win. Lets see if it happens again tomorrow night, or April, May and June when the real games start.

    I'm sorry I can't say one week the regular season is trivial, which it is, and then jump up and down when the Rockets win one game in December. Sorry but the regular season records are meaningless. When the playoffs come, then we will see how good this team and players are. The hope now is to get everyone back completely healthy, coast until the 70 game mark, then go on a 12 game spurt to close out the year, preparing for the playoffs.

    I realize that you may be a long time Rockets fan, so you may have a somewhat twisted view of how things typically work, but come on. The regular season is far from trivial; if history has taught us anything, it's that while a well rested rotation is critical, no team can "coast" through the first 70 games of the season. Aside from your beloved 95 Rockets, how many other teams that finished below the 4th seed have won the championship or even are it to the Finals? Teams need to win enough games to get the 4th seed, or their odds are, historically speaking, close to zero.
  • Steven says 10 months ago

    Leave it to Steven to find a way to take a dig at Lin and the Rockets after a great win tonight in San Anntonis. Just the second time this month the Rockets beat San Antonio, in San Antonio.

    It was a good win. Lets see if it happens again tomorrow night, or April, May and June when the real games start.

    I'm sorry I can't say one week the regular season is trivial, which it is, and then jump up and down when the Rockets win one game in December. Sorry but the regular season records are meaningless. When the playoffs come, then we will see how good this team and players are. The hope now is to get everyone back completely healthy, coast until the 70 game mark, then go on a 12 game spurt to close out the year, preparing for the playoffs.
  • rm90025 says 10 months ago

    Rockets won this game because they had their 4 best players on the court playing together for extended minutes (Harden, Howard, Parsons, Lin). That hasn't happened much this so far this season. Lin got to play more of a PG role as opposed to a SG role and he delivered a performance on both sides of the ballthat was reminiscent of several he had last season alongside Harden against top competition. Harden sizzled in the 4th quarter and Howard was very solid despite some TO's. One hopes that this game will be a newsflash to McHale(though I am not holding my breath on that one).This next 4-6 week stretch with Beverley recovering from injury will probably determine whether Lin is traded or not this year.If, due to a lack of depth and a desire toprotectHarden's health,McHale is forced to trust Lin (as he conceded in the post-game press conference), and the team delivers more performances like this win over San Antonio, it will be hard to justify taking him out of the lineup. That said, a national audience saw a young PG hold his own and arguably outplay one of the best in the game. Thatshould increase his trade value andmay make him an essential piece in any effort to move Asik.

  • Chai says 10 months ago

    ^ Just ignore him. I've learned during my time lurking that he provides nothing constructive to discussions.

  • Knickabokkaz says 10 months ago

    Even the blind squirrel finds the acorn sometimes.

    One game outta 50 isn't good enough. Called consistency.

    I'll just go back to the last time Bev played Parker when Parker put up 27 on him.

    You still have hopes and dreams of Canaan playing? Lol
  • rocketrick says 10 months ago

    Even the blind squirrel finds the acorn sometimes.

    One game outta 50 isn't good enough. Called consistency.

    Leave it to Steven to find a way to take a dig at Lin and the Rockets after a great win tonight in San Anntonis. Just the second time this month the Rockets beat San Antonio, in San Antonio.

  • miketheodio says 10 months ago Lin not starting has nothing to do with his ability. Nobody can run the offense in the second unit if lin starts.
  • linonlyfan says 10 months ago

    Hmm, great bounce back game for Lin as well where even ESPN's initial recap said "just one turnover". Aside from making Parker look a little anonymous with defense featuring a nasty block of a layup attempt at the rim, he also posted the highest /-, something i haven't seen too often.

    Maybe he really just he just is a late bloomer on a slightly accelerated pay grade. After all he is learning to play defense against NBA offences, re learned how to shoot his jump shot over the summer and probably finally had a real offseason to get physically prepared. Hope he stays healthy so he can get some solid run over the next 4-6 weeks to establish some consistency.

    I thought he looked like he belonged in the starters today, but losing him on the bench mob had clear consequences with the 2nd quarter starting terribly on the offensive side of things with maybe 2 points in 4 minutes. If Lin is in the first unit then the 2nd unit appears to need another creator with Aaron Brooks looking slightly up and down atm. Worth mentioning that we still don't have a true backup centre and it showed every time Howard was out.

  • thenit says 10 months ago

    Think should have mentioned Lins strong game on Parker, made a huge difference for us tonight, especially when last game he got criticized for his D against Dallas.

  • SadLakerFan says 10 months ago Well, that was impressive. Where did that defense come from?
  • Red94 says 10 months ago New post: Houston Rockets 111, San Antonio Spurs 98: Rockets lead wire to wire
    By: Eric Nielsen

    Santa came and left a road win under the tree for Rocket fans.  Playing one of their best all around games of the year, the Rockets came out of the gate hot and finished the fourth quarter on a roll to beat the Spurs.  It was close a couple of times, mainly in the second and third quarters when the Spurs turned up the heat with very physical basketball and some hard fouls.  The refs let a lot go in this game and the Rockets met the Spurs challenge.  That was playoff style basketball and Howard and Jones held it down in the middle.  Jones came to Howard's defense after one particularly hard foul and showed the league that the second year player would stand and fight.

    Howard had a 15 and 20 night while Jones had 21 and 14.  They were +23 and +14 respectively for their time tonight.  Howard was smiling and talking about the coaches riding the big horse.  He’s found his groove and that bodes well for the future and when we get everyone back and healthy.  Jones held his end up in the middle and got a game high 42 minutes.  Howard and Duncan had some intense battles for position in the paint and it was fun to see the Rockets with some power inside.

    The Spurs had to settle for a lot of jump shots and could only hit 40% from the field.  Amazingly, the Rockets defense looked good. Usually it’s the Spurs taking away their opponent's strengths and forcing teams to take shots they didn’t want.  When the game got physical, the Rockets were able to match the intensity and they really battled in the paint and rebounded hard.

    The Rockets shot 50% from behind the arc as Parsons broke the game open in the first, shooting four for four from three point land.  He ended up five for nine from behind the line.  The Rockets scored a season tying best 40 points in the first quarter.  The Rockets finished a stunning 52% from the field against a tough defensive Sours team at home.  Everyone shot the ball well except Casspi who was three for nine.  There aren’t many teams who can beat the Rockets when they shoot the ball that well.

    Harden was a welcome addition after missing the last two games.  It was his shooting in the fourth quarter that sealed the deal and closed out the Spurs.  It’s been a while since Harden has been able to shoulder the team and score clutch points.  Tonight he was the man.  He hit some tough shots and was taking it to the hole in a very physical game.  He shot a perfect three for three from behind the line and ended up with a game high 28 points on 11 for 16 shooting.  Welcome back James!

    All of the starters ended up with double digit scoring but the bench struggled.  Casspi and Brooks were a +/- of -11 and Garcia was a -13. Brooks did hit a couple of big threes, but the bench ended up shooting five for 14 and not getting a lot of time in.  The big dogs played some heavy minutes.  Even though Howard was in some foul trouble McHale kept him in and he ended up with five fouls.

    Popovich says the key to winning is to play with physicality.  If the Rockets can add this toughness to their repertoire they will have a much better chance of winning a playoff series this year.  Pop gave up with 2:30 left in the game and subbed the scrubs.  After the drubbing the Pacers gave us, this was a great Christmas present for Rockets fans.  Beating the Spurs in front of a national audience sent a message to everyone watching.  The Rockets can contend.

  • Steven says 10 months ago

    For a guy that isn't an "elite pg" you know... To throw the ball to d12 in the post and get his teammates easy shots (roles eyes), he was more then efficient with 1 TO, 50%FG , 13/8, 2 blocks, 1 steal, oh not to mention played D on Parker the entire night leaving him to 6 pts, 3/11 shooting.

    Harden played great as well, closed out the game hot (yes imma LOF, but I'm honest in my assessment) big games by parsons d12 an tjones

    Even the blind squirrel finds the acorn sometimes.

    One game outta 50 isn't good enough. Called consistency.
  • thenit says 10 months ago All starters were good tonight. They hustled played D etc.
  • Knickabokkaz says 10 months ago For a guy that isn't an "elite pg" you know... To throw the ball to d12 in the post and get his teammates easy shots (roles eyes), he was more then efficient with 1 TO, 50%FG , 13/8, 2 blocks, 1 steal, oh not to mention played D on Parker the entire night leaving him to 6 pts, 3/11 shooting.

    Harden played great as well, closed out the game hot (yes imma LOF, but I'm honest in my assessment) big games by parsons d12 an tjones
  • Chai says 10 months ago

    Loving Lin's defense on Parker tonight. Doing a good job shifting his feet and following through on screens.

  • 2016Champions says 10 months ago Links guys! Lol
  • Buckko says 10 months ago

    Agreed mike and the laundry commercial was by far the funniest.

  • miketheodio says 10 months ago

    marco belinelli seems like he was born for a spurs uniform

  • RollingWave says 10 months ago

    the other HEB spurs commercials are funnier

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