Coach Mike D’Antoni’s formula for Houston to win in this series is pretty simple: The pace has to be up, the threes have to fall, and the role players — particularly off the bench — have to step up with big games.
Game 4 saw the Houston back to running and gunning. The Rockets hit 19 threes on 44.2 percent shooting from deep, ( well above the 30.8 percent they shot in Game 3). All those threes falling forced the Spurs to extend their defense, then the Rockets started putting the ball on the floor and blowing by them in what felt like a layup line at points.
And the Rockets got help for James Harden. Ryan Anderson had 13 points (up from 2 in the previous game), and the Houston bench had 50 points, well ahead of the 10 last game. Eric Gordon led the way with 22.
The result of all this was a 125-104 win for the Rockets at home, evening the series at 2-2 heading back to San Antonio for Game 5 Tuesday.
“Several guys stepped up tonight,” James Harden said after a 28 point, 12 assist night (eight of the 12 dimes were for threes). “Ryan, Lou, Eric, Trevor, Pat, and if we’re going to have a chance at this series they’re going to have to make plays, and they did tonight.”
The Rockets did all this without Nene, who suffered a groin injury two minutes in and could not play. His status for the rest of the series is up in the air.
Patrick Beverley was the inspiration for Houston, on the day he lost his grandfather he played fantastic ball, scored 10 points and that included hitting the first three of the night.
“As always, he’s probably the heart and soul, the guy, he’s just incredible,” D’Antoni said postgame.
“So much adversity through his life that he’s had to go through to get to this point,” Harden added. “He’s just a fighter.”
The real story of this game was pace — the Rockets were running again, and the Spurs again got sucked into playing fast for stretches. They also didn’t slow the Rockets transition game.
“For us, our Bible begins with transition defense, and if it’s not there we’re just not ready to go,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. “If you’d seen the clips of our transition D you would have traded all the players and fired me at the end of the game. It was that bad. But they were that intense, they were that focused and professional, and we were not.”
One key to the pace this series has been rebounding. The Rockets had been killed on the offensive glass the last couple games and that slowed down their attack. The Spurs grabbed the offensive board on 32.8 percent of their missed shots in Game 3, but in Game 4 that fell to 24 percent, which allowed the Rockets to get out and run more.
With that pace and space, the shots fell — the Rockets even shot 62 percent on the shots contested by the Spurs (according to NBA.com). In addition to Harden’s 28 points and Gordon’s 22, Trevor Ariza had 16, and Lou Williams pitched in 13 off the bench.
Jonathon Simmons led the Spurs 1ith 17 points off the bench and he played well. Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge combined for 32 points on 27 shots. They will need to play better at home if the Spurs are to take control of this series again.
More importantly, the Spurs will need to control the pace of Game 5 to get that crucial win.