San Antonio Spurs 115, Houston Rockets 107: The defense came around, eventually


Following their victory over the Sacramento Kings, before boarding a flight for Houston, a noticeably frustrated Gregg Popovich and several members of the San Antonio Spurs remarked that if their play of the past week continued they would find little success on the road.

“There are some opponents that are going to let you do this, but Houston desperately needing wins to get to the eighth seed, and then Miami and Dallas, it’s not going to happen,” Manu Ginobili said. “We’re going to have to play way better from minute one to 48 and go back to where we were 10 days ago defensively.”

Consider the Spurs 0-1 on their bold prediction.

Playing without Luis Scola, the Houston Rockets managed to put together an offensively dominant third quarter, taking the Spurs deep into the fourth quarter with the game in doubt. For the game, the Spurs surrendered 48 percent shooting (40 percent from three). The defense did not improve, yet the victory remained the same.

And if the performance did not spark much confidence heading into games at Miami and Dallas, remember that these Houston Rockets are not Miami or Dallas. In an 82-game season that has gone as successful as this one has so far, sometimes the opponent is merely boredom.

There are two tenets of the Spurs defensive philosophy that has kept the team in the upper echelon of defensive efficiency even as their individual talent for it slipped: three-point shooting and free throw attempts. At times, the San Antonio Spurs abandoned both of them.

Twenty-five free throw attempts in all for the Houston Rockets, which isn’t bad for an unfocused team against the like of Kevin Martin.

In terms of scoring, Martin and Ginobili are almost soul mates, buttressing lower field goal percentages with a large number of three-pointers and free throw attempts. Stat geeks unite.

And though there will be some that will want to point to the Spurs flagging defense, or what feels like growing rebounding problems, it’s almost impossible to get a big picture judgment from such an irrelevant game.

For all the worries, this game never really was one. These Spurs were simply far too deep, landing eight players in double figures and as always, executing down the stretch.

Miami and Dallas are ahead next week, and with them will be reasons to worry or rejoice. For now, on a team that has already surpassed its win total from a year ago–against these Rockets on a random Saturday night–it’s hard to fault a win. Even if the Spurs do.


  • Junierizzle

    Im one of the dudes that said The Spurs are just going to pace themselves for the rest of the year.
    Of course if they play like this in the playoffs they will lose. Guess what? It aint the playoffs yet.
    Remember how they played against Dallas last playoffs? They played with fire! Mcdeezy with the stellar D on Dirk. Manu being Manu. Thats how they are going to play.
    And when they got put out it was because they couldnt score enough, not bad D.

  • TD = Best EVER

    @ Junierizzle

    “And when they got put out it was because they couldnt score enough, not bad D.”

    Ugh really…………….. did you watch a single game??? we were winning all games at some point in the 4th qt………. Also did you see what Nash did to us in game one….. how was that offensive related? Or Dragic in game 3, again not Offense, but our inability to even slow him down KILLED us……. And our great FO decided to return to the playoffs with basically the same team and no major additions…… It either brilliant and we win it all(at least make it to the finals and push whoever to 6 games) or the dumbest thing ever……..

  • rj

    @ td-be- don’t forget we have a deeper rotation this year. gary neal will provide another playmaking, scoring puch that rmj failed to provide. also, blair should have a more productive postseason as well. i think we will definately turn up the defensive intensity. i think we may see some 4 down which will also slow things. splitter will play if we are getting beaten up inside. as the matchups and adjustments continue, teams will want to go after our smaller frontcourt. i also think we shouldn’t sell our bigs short either. dyess and duncan are extremely physical and bonner and blair are tough as well. but if bynum is in when duncan rests, we will see tiago. he isn’t a rotation player. but he has gotten more playing time then mahinmi last year, therefore pop will trust him if matchups become unfavorable.

  • andy

    “Man this team is so predictable.”

    yes, as in most experts predicting us not to crack 50 wins, and people on here predicting the end. (i’m cherrypicking, but couldn’t resist)

    for once i agree with you. we didn’t lose the suns series because of offense. that said, i think (like many) that was a fluke perfect storm. our p&r defense hasn’t improved insanely much, but it’s certainly better than last year. also, our triumvirate is less worn down than last year. i like our chances, and our ability to rachet up our d in the playoffs (i think this is my main beef, that people think our defense is atrocious. it’s not, and in fact, it’s pretty damn good. not historic good, but good enough for the regular season while showing flashes of being championship caliber).

    take a look around at the teams we’re likely to face. i don’t think we’ll see another hot streaking team with a heavy p&r game like that this year. i could be wrong, kobe could go off and distribute to his big men, and rondo could pull a nash once if we face them in the finals, but i don’t see it.

    i could be wrong, but i’d wager our front office though like i do, and not like most malcontents posting here.

  • Tim in Surrey

    I’ll chime in on a couple of points that seem to concern a few people. First is the idea that “you can’t just turn on the switch when the playoffs start”. Actually, history shows that you can. Boston did it just last year, in fact. One of my all-time favorite teams, Walton’s Blazers, did it in ’77 and any Houston or Washington fan can remind you of some of their teams that did. Second, the idea that we’re not a good enough road team is preposterous. We’re tied with the Mavs for the best road record in the league! And that’s despite our obvious problems with back-to-backs, which don’t occur in the playoffs.

    A 7% chance in the playoffs–based on “recent” defensive efficiency alone? Even John Hollinger, using a formula that weights performance over the last 25% of the season very heavily, gives us double that chance. And this is the same formula that predicted that we would beat the Suns last year. Bonner-Blair the worst frontcourt you’ve ever seen?! Can somebody get Bruno a tape of the Cadillac Anderson/Walter Berry days, stat? Or for that matter just show him this year’s Cleveland Cavaliers. And what’s with that assault on George Hill’s defense all of a sudden? Look, he was never an All-NBA-calibre defender before (see the Suns series for proof) and he’s not being counted on as a perimeter stopper. We haven’t used that sort of a defensive scheme since Bowen’s heyday, so the fact that we don’t have one isn’t that crucial. (A bigger concern is defending the pick-and-roll inside, frankly.)

    Everybody please, just relax. This is still a marathon, with quite a few miles left to go. There are still plenty of ups and downs to come.

  • Titletown99030507d

    You Don’t win without defense. Period.

  • Titletown99030507d

    @, Bankshot,

    Are you kidding me? Timmy isn’t 26 anymore. And Bynum has totally recovered from his knee injury. Unless someone drives a truck into his knee he aint going down. This guy is there for the playoffs. Expect him to be there and ready to prove a point. His confidence has shot way up. As much as I like Timmy he needs help. Real help not some 3 point shooting foul laden running around the court clown and an undersized center. Your fooling yourself dude in thinking Timmy can go consecutive 7 game series at 38 min a clip. He won’t have enough by the time the WC finals come around let alone the paint monsters from the east. Good God wake up. Failure on Pop’s part for not making sure there was adequate help in that respect. After this year is over I want Timmy to take a back seat and the team should concentrate on the future. I don’t want to waste the up and comings on old man years.

  • Titletown99030507d


    Your basing regular season play with what is going to happen in the playoffs. You can’t compare the both. Look at Dallas with their best record and got punked in the 1st round. Sadly the signs are there. They are going to struggle,but I tell you if they “that’s a big if ” they shoot ridiculous shooting % in the playoffs they they have a chance to be the first team to win with offense in the finals.

  • Alix Babaie

    ”And though there will be some that will want to point to the Spurs flagging defense, or what feels like growing rebounding problems, it’s almost impossible to get a big picture judgment from such an irrelevant game.”

    Damn, I wish some of you knew how to read.

    Don’t put so much stock in this last month of games. The season is grinding down and the playoffs will be here before you know it.

    The Spurs accomplished so much more than most people on this blog (or anywhere else, for the matter) gave them credit to achieve.

    The playoffs are a different animal altogether and can any of you say, with absolute certainty, that the Spurs defense will not improve during the time that it is paramount to rachet up the effort?

    Son of a bitch, it is like some of you want the Spurs to get beaten in the playoffs just to prove yourselves right.

    If some of you were as smart about the game as you claim to be, why are you not scouting / coaching for the Spurs (or another NBA team for that matter)?

    My thought is be very happy with how the Spurs are doing, that the #1 seed overall is pretty damned close to locked up and that the HCA is going to be more important this season to the Spurs then it ever has been in the past, since many of the teams of the West are extremely competitive and the vast majority of them can outspend the Spurs.

    I love Splitter but that guy is not going to be able to help us out as much as many of you would like him to this season. Pop knows this team better than ANY of you yahoos who are bashing on him. Calling him stupid too? Get the fuck outta here. If you are a real Spurs fan, then you should be ashamed to post on here. Really… are supposed to support the team through good and bad, thick and thin.

    I just don’t see that from many of you and it’s a real shame because this team is on pace to do some truly great things this season and post season for that matter but you gotta have faith.

  • Alix Babaie

    I wonder how many of you were saying the same negative things when the Spurs played Portland in ’99 right before Sean Elliott hit that IMPOSSIBLE 3 pointer to turn the Spurs’ tide from 2nd round also rans to Champions?

    Nothing is absolute in sports, nothing.

    There is a dogged determination on this Spurs team that can’t be quantified with stats on D or O.

    They find ways to win where last year’s team found ways to lose.

  • junierizzle


    I saw every game of the Suns series. And it was the offense. The SPurs never “stopped” the SUNS. They always outscored them. Last season with Manu not being the same after the nose break, TP not right, GHill with no confidence, The SPURS could not slug it out with the suns like they used to.
    Like you said they were winning at some point in all the games, but then the offense dried out.

  • Bankshot21


    34 does not equate to being frail. Dyess is still strong. Kurt can still body up with anybody. My favorite player has gotten weak with the weight loss. Plain and simple. No one is looking for a 26 year old TD. I’m looking for a 34 year old TD that can body up Bynum and allow someone else to get the board. I mentioned 0 about athletic ability. I said strength. These are grown men and strength is not something you naturally lose by age 34. Defense wins championships yes, and we play D in spurts. Very important crucial spurts. We have flaws like any other team. We aren’t bottom of the barrell defensively the way some of you “fans” make us out to be. I am sure that we are 1 of the better 4th quarter defensive teams. That’s fine with me if the D during the first 3 quarters keeps the game respectable until we flip that switch and get separation.