San Antonio Spurs 134, Houston Rockets 126: Luckily, Lin’s 38 is not enough
When Kawhi Leonard was drafted by the Spurs, fans instantaneously had visions of a bigger, more offensive Bruce Bowen in their heads. Leonard hasn’t lived up to those expectations yet, but he seems destined for good things. Something that he has the luxury of, which Bowen did not, is playing alongside a wing who on some days could be considered his equal on the defensive end.
Leonard is viewed as the Spurs’ defensive stopper for both the present and the future, and for good reason. He’s incredibly talented and held his own as a rookie and early in his sophomore season against the likes of Kevin Durant. The Spurs’ Danny Green is up to the task of defending on a similar level. Where Leonard can guard the talented small forwards and undersized power forwards of this league, Green can chase and harass the elite point guards and shooting guards San Antonio goes up against.
In San Antonio’s 134-126 overtime win against the Houston Rockets, Green figured to have an easier go of things with his primary target, James Harden, missing the game with an ankle injury. Things didn’t go exactly as planned, though, as Jeremy Lin re-discovered the magic of “Linsanity” and poured in 38 points on 11-21 shooting for Houston.
I can’t tell you how many of those points were scored on Green, I would have to go back and re-watch the game to give you an accurate estimate on that. What I can tell you is that were it not for several of the defensive plays Green made in the fourth quarter and overtime, the Spurs surely would’ve lost this game.
The most notable play had to be Houston’s final offensive possession in regulation. The Rockets were running pick-and-rolls with Lin and Asik, with Lin either pulling up and knocking down 3s (4-5 in the game) or doing that Chris Paul thing where he gets past the screen and into the middle of the lane, then taking a dribble or two backwards. For the final possession, with the score tied at 120, Houston changed things up.
The Rockets decided to go against what had been working and instead isolate Lin against Green. No picks, no movement, nobody to save Lin from Green’s long arms and quicker hands. Lin dribbled and scanned for weaknesses to exploit, but hadn’t the space to attack nor the time to think of a better option. Green blanketed Lin, poking the ball away several times, and forced a shot clock violation. The Spurs got the ball back with five seconds left and, though they didn’t get a shot off either and the game went into overtime, the previous possession was an important one. Gregg Popovich and his club got one of those “stops on demand” that had become a thing of the past and gave the Spurs a chance to win.
In the overtime period, Green made another important defensive play. After missing a 3-pointer with a 130-124 lead, Green picked up Carlos Delfino full-court and forced the Rockets wing into dribbling off of his own foot and out of bounds. Tim Duncan got fouled and hit both free throws on the following play, giving the Spurs an eight-point advantage in overtime.
The Spurs entered Monday night’s game against the Rockets boasting an offense that seemed oh so familiar to the one that was running amok during last season’s 20-game wining streak and a defense that was all too respectable. Having a top-5 offensive and defensive efficiency seems like too much to ask the basketball gods, though, and the Spurs gave up 107.8 defensive rating against Houston.
The defense will have its ups and downs. It’s not going to be what it was when Tim Duncan was in his prime and could control that end of the floor with his sheer will. But it doesn’t have to be last year’s mediocre version either. There is a happy middle ground that the Spurs have been occupying up until tip-off on Monday night versus Houston.
Leonard was a disruptive force on that end of the floor at the beginning of the season. Green took his turn in that role late on Monday night. With the backline defense of Duncan and better defense all around for San Antonio, it’s not a stretch to imagine that San Antonio can maintain the kind of defensive efficiency we’ve seen thus far.
And if not, well, games like Monday’s win against the Rockets are fun too.
And now, some other notes from the Spurs’ overtime win against Houston:
- All the above said, Green was no slouch offensively. He finished with 14 points on 6-14 shooting (2-7 from 3), six rebounds, five assists (including one nice pass to Boris Diaw for a layup in the first half that I wouldn’t expect last year’s Danny Green to make), two steals and two blocked shots.
- I spent 700 words talking about Danny Green’s defense late against the Rockets, but Tony Parker’s night was the story for the Spurs. Parker notched his first career triple-double in the Spurs win, with 27 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists. Parker told Bill Land and Sean Elliott after the game that he was told he was one rebound short of the feat when regulation ended, so he knew he had five minutes left to get that one board. Somehow, he got three in the five minute period. Showoff.
- It took us this long to get to Gary Neal? Well, yeah, that’s what happens sometimes in games like this one. Neal put on a show against the Rockets, pulling up for long 3-pointer after long 3-pointer and at times single-handedly shooting the Spurs back into the game or into the lead. Neal finished with 29 points on 11-18 shooting and 7-10 from the 3-point line in a incredible shooting performance. I can only guess that whichever bus Neal was on after the game hit only green lights on the way to the airport.
- The Spurs tried their damnedest to lose this game, committing 19 turnovers, including a stretch early in the fourth quarter where the Spurs turned it over on three of their first four possessions of the period, going from down two points to down nine. You could honestly say that half of the Spurs deserved to lose this game and half of them deserved to win it. Luckily for everyone involved, the ones who deserved to win it were just a bit more successful in their attempts.
- One of the areas San Antonio struggled early in this game was in keeping Houston off of the offensive boards. The Rockets finished with 11 in the game (for 20 second chance points), which is decent, but almost half of those second opportunities came in the first quarter (five OREBs). San Antonio went on to win the rebounding battle 49-40 in the end, though.
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