San Antonio Spurs 124, Houston Rockets 121
AT&T CENTER — The San Antonio Spurs beat the Houston Rockets in overtime 124-121 on Saturday night. It was a very exciting game, especially for it being only five games into the season.
Richard Jefferson scored 22 points and hit 4 of 5 3-pointers in what is one of the best stories of the young season for the Spurs. Manu Ginobili was very Manu Ginobili-like on Saturday night. He scored 28 points and was the go-to player in the clutch, hitting a step-back, fall away jumper with 9.5 seconds left in the fourth quarter to force overtime. Tony Parker had 14 assists, Tim Duncan had 19 & 11, and the Spurs shot 9-21 from behind the 3-point line.
Those are all great things that should reflect a win, but they almost didn’t. San Antonio’s defense allowed the Rockets to score 113 points in regulation. A Houston team that in the second half was missing Yao Ming (didn’t play at all Saturday because it was the first night of a back-to-back), Aaron Brooks (sprained his ankle in a nasty way at the very end of the first half) and Kevin Martin (sprained his ankle in the third quarter).
A Rockets team led by Luis Scola, Courtney Lee, Shane Battier, Ish Smith and Chuck Hayes went on an 18-2 run in the late third quarter/early fourth to turn a 13-point Spurs lead into a 3-point deficit.
“I thought we absolutely lost our focus and once you do that, it’s tough to get it back,” Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. “[The Rockets] were down some guys, obviously from injury. They were fantastic.”
The Spurs have an interesting bend-but-don’t-break defense going in the early season, if you call allowing 101.5 points per game not breaking.
San Antonio lacks a shot-blocking big man this season. We’ve talked about it, it’s been covered. The Spurs are the fourth-worst team in the league in defending shots at the rim. According to Hoopdata.com, opponents are shooting 68.1% at the rim against San Antonio. The league average is 61.7%. But the Spurs only allow teams to get to the rim 17.3 times per game, the second best rate in the league behind the Orlando Magic.
Conversely, the Spurs allow the sixth-most attempts in the league (16.5) from less than 10 feet away from the basket. But San Antonio is fourth-best in the league at defending those shots, letting teams shoot just 36.4% from the floor.
In the 18-2 run that got the Rockets back in the game over five minutes in the second half, Houston shot seven layups, making four of them. In the other 43 minutes of game time in regulation, the Rockets attempted 17 shots at the rim.
Bend but don’t break. Let them in the lane where the bodies and arms are, but don’t let them get to the rim. It’s a dangerous strategy because conventional wisdom says that when the ball gets in the lane, bad things happen. Right now, the Spurs are trying to prove otherwise.