Rockets shake up playoffs by smashing Spurs in Game 1

AP Photo/Eric Gay
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In the second quarter:

  • Rockets: 17 fastbreak points
  • Spurs: 16 total points

Houston followed an eye-opening first quarter with a whirlwind second quarter, building a 30-point halftime lead en route to a 126-99 win over San Antonio in Game 1 of their second-round series Monday.

This was tied for the second-biggest road Game 1 victory ever. The Jazz beat the Suns by 39 in the 1991 first round, and the Rockets also beat the Trail Blazers by 27 in the 2009 first round.

For any playoff game in the shot-clock era, Houston built the 12th-biggest halftime lead. The advantage swelled to 39 in the fourth quarter before the Spurs won the dredges of garbage time.

“It’s one win,” said James Harden, who scored 20 points and dished 14 assists, half on 3-pointers. “It’s a good win for us, but we’ve got to get ready for Game 2.”

The Spurs ought to know. They beat the Thunder by 32 in Game 1 of last year’s second-round series then lost in six.

But winning early is San Antonio’s M.O. The Spurs had won 14 of their last 15 Game 1s. They often have a superior strategy to start a series, and then sometimes their lack of athleticism catches up to them.

It’s unclear where they go from here.

San Antonio’s bigs – David Lee, Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge – looked inept defensively. They couldn’t hang in the pick-and-roll or keep up in transition.

Houston center Clint Capela (20 points on 8-of-10 shooting and 13 rebounds) had an incredibly clear path to the rim.

Trevor Ariza (23 points on 5-of-10 3-point shooting), Ryan Anderson (14 points on 4-of-10 3-point shooting) and Eric Gordon (11 points on 3-of-6 3-point shooting) helped by spacing the floor. In all, Houston shot 22-of-50 (44%) from beyond the arc.

Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets will keep attacking those mismatches, and James Harden appears uniquely qualified to orchestrate.

The Spurs’ size netted little on the other end. Lee, Gasol and Aldridge combined to score 14 points on 4-for-12 shooting in 75 minutes.

Kawhi Leonard (21 points on 5-of-14 shooting, 11 rebounds and six assists) posted impressive individual numbers, but he didn’t move the needle.

It’s difficult to find a solution that doesn’t involve San Antonio going small, something Gregg Popovich has been reluctant to do. Perhaps, Popovich will give a bigger role to center Dewayne Dedmon who played somewhat well in garbage time but made a bigger splash by having Nene grab his neck and get ejected then getting ejected himself.