San Antonio Spurs 114, Houston Rockets 92: Improvements all around

by

AT&T CENTER — For the first few games of this season, the Spurs bench had me concerned. Truthfully, the offense as a whole was somewhat questionable. Considering the tear both the Spurs’ attacking and reserves were on at the close of last season, and the manner in which San Antonio brought back the mostly the same rotation, I expected them to start out the season far better than they did.

The ship has since been righted over the last couple of weeks, and Friday night was simply a continuation of that as the Spurs bench again was a major player in the Spurs’ 114-92 win over Southwest Division rival Houston Rockets. San Antonio’s bench outscored their Houston counterparts 59-42 on the night, led by Tiago Splitter’s 15 points and six rebounds.

The story of this game wasn’t so much how the Spurs won the game, so much as how fun it was to watch. Although, it should be pointed out how effective San Antonio’s defense was. The Spurs were able to take away much of what Houston wanted to do, holding them to 33% shooting from the 3-point line and 39% overall. Houston was particularly weak around the basket, where the Spurs racked up seven blocked shots. Much of Houston’s made shots around the rim were transition buckets.

“I think they did a good job of taking away our first option,” Rockets guard Jeremy Lin said after the game.

San Antonio limited the Rockets to a 85.6 offensive efficiency in the game, continuing a trend of solid defense for the Spurs. What was interesting, was after the game Tim Duncan was asked about the defense, specifically how it’s improved even while missing Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson. Duncan remarked, “we’re learning.”

I struggle to think about a great defensive player like Duncan, who’s been around the league for so many years, still learning. I guess all of us have to hone our crafts as time goes by and things evolve, but still. It’s Tim Duncan for God’s sake.

San Antonio led wire-to-wire in this game, but the Rockets hung around until the third quarter. From the 7:31 mark following a layup by Lin, the Spurs went on a 15-0 run featuring six points each from Duncan and Gary Neal. That stretched the lead to 23 points and signaled the end for Houston.

This game was really decided in the paint. Houston was unable to protect the rim from an attacking Spurs side. San Antonio outscored the Rockets 60-38 in the lane on the night. Most of Tony Parker’s 17 points came around the basket, as he repeatedly got into the paint and wreaked havoc. TP shot 7-9 from the field.

Really, the Spurs were tough to stop anywhere inside the arc. San Antonio shot 62.6% from 2-point range to the Rockets’ 42%. I realize I’m throwing a lot of numbers at you, but I’m only trying to emphasize how lopsided this contest was.

It took several games and some bumps and bruises, but the Spurs have finally recaptured some of the magic of last season. The offense is humming along and decimating opposing defenses. The loss to the Miami Heat, in which six of the Spurs’ core rotation players were missing, has become a major confidence-builder for the reserves and it’s not out of the question to think this roster could go 15 deep when Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson return from injury. If NBA rules allowed more than 13 players to suit up, that is.

It’s a long season and the last thing the Spurs want to do is peak too early, but San Antonio again promises to offer one of the more entertaining regular seasons in the league. If the defense continues to tighten and improve, that’s a good combination for Spurs fans.

And now, some notes from San Antonio’s big home win over Houston:

  • The Nando De Colo show continues. Next stop: Charlotte. Nando finished with seven points and five assists against Houston.
  • Matt Bonner brought the Thunder in the fourth quarter. Running a side pick-and-roll with Cory Joseph, Bonner was left wide open on the roll and the Red Rocket made it count. He went up with two hands, cocking the ball back (!) and throwing it down. If anything tells you had lopsided the second half was, that play was it.
  • No player racked up more than 26 minutes of action. That will come in handy as the Spurs play the Bobcats in Charlotte on Saturday night.
  • The Spurs outrebounded the Rockets 50-37 and gave up only two second chance points. The rebounding is definitely trending upward after the last two games.

Advanced lineup data courtesy of NBA.com/Stats

  • jamberg

    So once Kawhi and Jax come back, who are the two guys who don’t dress? I’m guessing Joseph and Anderson, right? Stupid NBA rules. I’ve actually been really enjoying Round 2 of the James Anderson experience.

  • Zach

    I was going to ask the same thing. I’m thinking it has to be those two with the way Nando has been playing of late but James Anderson has been playing really well too.

  • Bruno

    With Nando playing very well, Mills will lose his spot i think.

  • Andrew G

    MATT BONNER WITH THE JAM! Even the people in the stands behind our bench were smiling. Anyone know what happened to Blair in the 4th?

  • http://48minutesofhell.com Andrew A. McNeill

    Coach Pop said after the game it was an ankle injury. Wasn’t concerned about it, though. I would imagine he’ll be fine for Charlotte on Saturday night.

  • ThatBigGuy

    My wife, spontaneously after Bonner dunked, raised her hands and screamed “LIFTOFF – RED ROCKET!!!!!” I had to go change my undies because I peed in them.

    We have the best bench in the league, hands down. Come on, you know Bonner would be the 3rd big off the bench for most of the teams in the league. De Colo continues his quest in wearing out my rewind button. Splitter finds more open angles for reverse lay-ups than anyone I’ve ever seen.

    If Manu can find his mojo, the rest of the league is in trouble.

  • STIJL

    The per 36 graph is off the charts with 12 of the 15 players registering 10 points or more. DeColo and Joseph close behind with 9.6 and 9.4 respectively. Currently Spurs rank 4th in offensive eFG% and 3rd in defense eFG%.

    This without Leonard, who is still sidelined with injury, who is holding on to 5th best per game player on the team with 10.6 ppg, 2 spg, and 5,4 rpg yet to return.

    Best “team” effort I’ve ever recalled this early in a season.

  • Leben

    The last 3 games have shown why the M.I.A. in Miami (M.I.A.mi) was so much more than about just rest. Pop took a chance that the bench would compete and play hard which would propel ‘em going forward. And just like the Dallas game from last yr., it has; and it’s most indicative in Nando–ever since then he’s been playing like he belongs.

  • Titletown99030507d

    I have come to grips as to wanting more time for Tiago with Timmy. The way things materialize game after game he’s way more effective in scoring when Timmy’s not on the floor with him. Looks like the 2nd unit passers have found their go to guy. More time with Nando is what I want to see at this point.
    Dangerous scary team. They are way better than last seaon. I smell a parade.

  • Pingback: The Spurs bench carves up the Rockets | 48 Minutes of Hell()

  • Graham

    That’s why i’ve always been against heavy usage of Splitter and Duncan together. He’s needed to anchor the 2nd unit to give manu the perfect PnR guy, and now that his confidence is back he can score plenty with the D preoccupied with all the scoring on the perimeter. It’s hard to figure out if Diaw and his excellent Hi Low game or Blair with his Rebounding support, or even Bonner 2.0 would be best to pair with Splitter.

  • Bruno

    Its the opposite, they have to play together to learn how both can perform well.

  • STIJL

    Options are good

  • Graham

    We know they perform well together, however Duncan can’t log 40+ a night, and Splitter can’t either, though for different reasons. Splitting them up between units, unless we need a certain matchup, is the way to go. Come the Postseason we can start playing them together more if we really need to, but not having a legitimate center in the second unit hurts more than having two bigs helps in the first.

  • Pingback: Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets | 48 Minutes of Hell()