Three things to watch: Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs


1. Patrick Beverley vs. Tony Parker

Tony Parker is an aging 34-year-old point guard who had one of his worst seasons in recent memory, with important stats down across the board to go along with the first negative VORP of his career.

Then came playoff Tony Parker, who was a critical scorer and 3-point shoot for the Spurs in their series against the Memphis Grizzlies. This feels like what Parker does every year come playoff time, so it’s going to be critical to see what Houston Rockets defensive stopper Patrick Beverley can do against him.

Parker has been a scorer more against Houston during the regular season vs. his season averages, but Houston’s gameplan might need to dictate slowing him down, especially from beyond the arc.

Kawhi Leonard isn’t getting a lot of help and Parker’s presence helped them get past Memphis. If Beverley can clamp down on Parker it might help put the Spurs in an early hole.

2. Houston’s fastbreak vs. San Antonio’s legs

Houston was a middling transition team in terms of points per-play this season, but the risks associated were balanced with the reward of James Harden‘s passing. In the flow of a playoff game, getting quick, sharp 3-pointers after one dribble at the opposing free-throw line could mean all the momentum in the world for the Rockets.

San Antonio, meanwhile, looked a little tired against the Grizzlies. The Spurs ran infrequently against Memphis, although it should be pointed out they were incredibly efficient when they did so. Leonard needs some help from his teammates and they won’t have the luxury of playing a team that plays in the bottom 5 in pace like they did against the Grizzlies.

3. Someone, anyone, helping Kawhi

Leonard was stellar against the Grizzlies. He was so good that the former NBA Finals MVP somehow improved his playoff resume in a first round series. He’s ridiculous.

The rest of the Spurs? Not so much.

Tony Parker came alive for San Antonio, acting as their second-leading scorer and not a moment too soon. LaMarcus Aldridge seemed like an afterthought while Pau Gasol, Danny Green, and even Manu Ginobili played well below the potential impact they could have had on Memphis.

It would be an oversimplification to say the Spurs were able to beat the Rockets in the regular season this year by limiting turnovers and matching — if not surpassing — the amount of trips to the line Houston took. But those two factors are likely to have huge impact on this series as we go into round 2, and Leonard isn’t likely to shoot 19 free throws as he did against Memphis in Game 2.

Someone has to step up for the Spurs — preferably Aldridge — against Houston.