Rockets 100, Spurs 102 - Houston's Streak Dies By The Three

Following the soul-crushing news that Clint Capela has a broken fibula and will miss significant time, the Houston Rockets looked to keep their ten game winning streak alive against one of the best teams in the NBA – the San Antonio Spurs. Despite many opportunities to put this game away, the Rockets collapsed and the streak came to a painful end – thanks primarily to Houston shooting 6/38 (15.7%) from downtown. They missed 32 threes. THIRTY. TWO.

This game started with a lot of back-and-forth action that saw both teams trade buckets for the first few minutes. The backup centers, Nene and Montrezl Harrell, filled in for Capela quite nicely on the offensive side of the floor, but couldn’t keep up with LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol on the glass. At the end of the first quarter, the Spurs held a tight lead (26-24).

Things started to turn in San Antonio’s favor when the Rockets went on an unbelievable drought from beyond the three-point line, missing their first FOURTEEN attempts. While the Spurs did what they could to run Houston off the three-point line, the Rockets still largely got wide-open attempts – they just couldn’t convert.

Despite Houston’s shooting woes, they were only down by seven points (52-45) going into halftime. This is mostly because the Rockets weren’t being outplayed much in other aspects of the game; they won the battle on the offensive boards 13-5, had three fewer turnovers than the Spurs, and scored more points in the paint. (28-20). Take away the putrid shooting from beyond the arc and the Rockets actually shot a good percentage (54.5%).

Houston continued to miss threes in the third quarter, but they attacked more and played much better defense (despite Gasol and Aldridge on the verge of taking over early in the period). The Rockets actually managed to get the lead for the first time since very early in the game, and closed the third period on a 19-4 run in the final five minutes.

The fourth quarter was a WILD ride. San Antonio opened the period on a 9-1 run, hitting three consecutives shots from downtown. Houston then followed with an 8-0 run that was sparked by incredible defense from Patrick Beverley.

Houston then managed to build a 13 lead with continued defense and better execution offensively (still weren’t making threes). San Antonio followed with an 11-0 run of their own to cut the Rockets’ lead to one. Houston responded by building the lead back up to six with about 1:30 left to play, thanks to excellent hustle from Trevor Ariza. He finished a tough layup on a fastbreak that sent him falling down to the hardwood, and followed that by poking the ball out from behind Kawhi for his fourth steal of the game.

Unfortunately for the Rockets, they just could not execute in crunch time. After Danny Green hit a three to cut the lead to 100-99. Harden followed with a silly turnover, but redeemed himself (temporarily) by playing good defense on a Kawhi Leonard drive (Spurs thought he got fouled on the play, no-call, but he probably did). Kawhi missed nonetheless and Ariza got the rebound, and promptly made maybe the dumbest play of the game by trying to force the ball to Harden in Spurs territory. If this was a football game, it would be like Brock Osweiller throwing into triple coverage (sorry, Texans fans). Danny Green intercepted the ball, and the Spurs called a timeout.

After the timeout, San Antonio inbounded the ball to Kawhi Leonard, who tried to drive on Eric Gordon. Gordon held his own and played excellent defense, forcing Leonard to kick out to a wide open Patty Mills, who drained the three after a defensive miscommunication – this gave the Spurs the 102-100 lead. The Spurs closed this game on a huge 19-4 run in the final four minutes.

James Harden missed a three at the buzzer, and the Rockets collapse was realized. The bottom line is that Houston blew this game by not converting from beyond the arc (which is bound to happen from time to time) that is all-important to Mike D’Antoni’s offense. You can’t miss 32 three-pointers and expect to win a game, but the Rockets actually put themselves in position to get a victory over one of the best teams in the NBA (and a divisional rival, no less).

This one hurts, but it’s a major positive that the Rockets did so much right for 44 minutes and should have beat a fully healthy Spurs team without the important presence of Clint Capela. Houston looks to start a new win streak in Phoenix tomorrow night.

Game Ball 

This is a segment of the game recaps that will give the proverbial game ball to a player that proved to be most valuable to the Rockets on a given night. This award won’t necessarily go to the player that puts up the best numbers, but to the player that made the greatest impact on the team – tangible or intangible.

Tuesday’s game ball goes to James Harden.

At the end of the day, Harden nearly posted yet another triple double and took it upon himself to score when the three-ball wasn’t falling. He scored 27 points in the first three quarters (included making all ten of his free throws). The ‘Beard’ finished with 31 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists. Unfortunately, the crunch-time offense also grinded to a halt late in the game, and some of that is due to ‘Harden hero ball.’

If the Rockets had hit even 20% from beyond the arc, this game would’ve been over minutes before the crunch-time collapse. As Harden told reporters postgame, ‘I didn’t close the right way.’

Sometimes, that’s just the way the ball bounces.

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