Going home to Houston, with Tony Parker out for the series, there was pressure and expectations on the Rockets to take control of their series against the Spurs on Friday night.
Instead, it was the Spurs who seemed in control.
The game was slower than the Rockets need (100 possessions total, it was 105 in Game 1), they shot 12-of-39 from three (30.8 percent), the role players that killed the Spurs in Game 1 were again quiet, and Houston has yet to find a good adjustment for dealing with Pau Gasol hanging back in the paint on defense. The Rockets scored just 92 points, a season low.
Meanwhile, the Spurs did Spurs-like things. They were patient on offense, and that led to LaMarcus Aldridge getting 26 points, matching Kawhi Leonard’s number. Defensively, Leonard and the scheme made life hard on James Harden, but more importantly, the Spurs stayed home on shooters and made it difficult for him to get others involved. Then, of course, the Spurs executed brilliantly down the stretch.
The result was a 103-92 win by the Spurs in Houston, giving the Spurs a 2-1 lead in the series. Game 4 is Sunday in Houston.
“I don’t know what they’ve done any different, they haven’t done anything different,” Rockets’ Mike D’Antoni said after the game. “They beat us three times in the regular season that way…
“Nothing they did should have bothered us, we just didn’t play good.”
James Harden put up 43 points, but he needs help getting buckets. If the Rockets are going to bounce back and even the series Sunday, they need their shooters to step up — Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, and Nene combined to shoot 6-of-36. As a team, non-Harden Rockets shot 18-of-60.
On top of all that, the Rockets started to lose their composure and just bark at officials. Both Harden and Patrick Beverley picked up technicals for complaining about calls.
The Spurs have been able to get away with Gasol and Aldridge on the floor, two bigs against Houston, and you wonder if D’Antoni will double down on his strategy and go smaller with Ryan Anderson at the five for stretches. That’s not to say Clint Capella has played poorly, he had 12 points and 16 rebounds, but the Rockets need to shake something up.
And they need to respond to pressure.
Game 5 becomes almost must-win for Houston — go down 3-1 and this series is over. Houston has to get back to playing fast and free, and they’ve just got to knock down their threes.