Houston Rockets 96, San Antonio Spurs 95: That James Harden again
The bane of the San Antonio Spurs’ existence during last summer’s Western Conference Finals series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, James Harden continue to be a thorn in the Spurs’ sides. Harden hit a contested jumper from the free throw line area with 4.5 seconds left to beat San Antonio at the Toyota Center in Houston.
The Spurs had a chance on the other end after a timeout, but Tim Duncan couldn’t sink a contested jumper of his own and Manu Ginobili’s followup attempt didn’t fall.
In short, this was a strange and exciting game. Neither team seemed happy with the calls that were being made and several times it seemed this game was on the brink of becoming a blowout, only to have the team that was down come back and even the game up.
Tony Parker led the Spurs with 23 points and seven assists, again with Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich calling Parker’s number down the stretch. There was one play, however, with about 30 seconds left where Houston guard Patrick Beverley was switched onto Manu Ginobili.
Beverley is listed at 6’1″ and the Spurs apparently wanted to attack that mismatch. The only problem with that strategy is that it meant Parker would not be getting the ball. San Antonio held a one-point lead at the time and made every effort to get the ball to Ginobili.
That didn’t happen and Tim Duncan eventually drove from near the top of the key, kicked the ball out to the opposite wing and Danny Green, who then swung it to Kawhi Leonard in the corner. Leonard’s 3-point attempt hit the side of the backboard and the Rockets secured the rebound. A Houston timeout eventually led to Harden’s game-winning jumper.
I’m not trying to say that attempting to exploit a mismatch late in the game was a mistake. I simply think that you want a play to be run for Tony Parker at that point in the game. While Manu Ginobili was once the guy you want with the ball in his hands late in the games, that responsibility/burden/privilege is Parker’s now. Ginobili simply hasn’t had the type of season making it necessary to get him the ball in that situation, no matter what matchup he may have.
Sure, hindsight is great. If Leonard hits that 3-pointer, we’re not having this conversation. But it didn’t go in and I need something to write about.
The Spurs will encounter many a one possession game in the playoffs. Dropping one game on the road to the Rockets in March isn’t a cause for concern, but you hope to see better late game execution from the Spurs next time.