The Margin: San Antonio Spurs 134, Houston Rockets 126
The San Antonio Spurs defeated the Houston Rockets 134-126 in overtime in Houston this evening. For those of you who are new around here, I rather infrequently write a uniquely formatted recap, the idea of which I shamelessly stole from Rob Mahoney, titled the Margin. It consists of one thought for every point in the margin of victory. You’re reading one of those recaps.
- Let’s be clear: the Spurs were a little lucky to be in this one. I’d refer to the Spurs as a turnover factory in the first half, but people in factories work and I don’t think you can describe anything about San Antonio’s energy level in the first half as workmanlike. Boris Diaw’s five turnovers were all especially egregious. I’m still not certain how they entered halftime with a lead. It may have something to do with the fact that Omer Asik is arguably the Rockets lone competent defender.
- Speaking of Omer Asik, he gave Tim Duncan hell tonight. Duncan was a meager 1-9 from the field, although he managed to scrounge together 10 points by going 8-8 from the charity stripe. Asik defended Duncan excellently: He stayed physical with his body, kept both feet on the ground, and reacted to Duncan’s movements while infrequently overplaying his fakes. He was especially effective when a second Rocket, normally Carlos Delfino, doubled Duncan hard. Delfino did a good job attacking the ball while Asik got physical enough to prevent a quick move or pass by Duncan but did so without drawing a foul. Asik was a surprisingly effective offensive force tonight as well, especially early in the game, before it turned into a 3-point shooting contest. When he kept the ball high and went straight for the hoop, he got to the line. It helped get Duncan in foul trouble early. Normally when Duncan has long stints on the bench, it’s because San Antonio is winning comfortably. Tonight it’s because Popovich couldn’t risk another foul, and for much of the game it took Duncan out of his rhythm.
- Tony Parker had 27 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists, his first triple-double of his career. Over the last ten games he’s averaging 23.4 points per game and seven assists while shooting 61.7% from the field. Tony is killing it right now. Everything I have to say about him has been said countless times. He gets to the rim at will. His mid-range jumper is soaking wet. He turns the ball over incredibly infrequently for a guy who handles it constantly. If hockey assists (the pass before the pass) were a recorded stat, he very well might lead the league in the category.
- The Rockets and the Spurs attempted 30 3-point field goals each. Just so we’re clear, that’s a lot. Jeremy Lin’s 4-5 left him with the best 3-point field goal percentage of the game of the 7 players who attempted more than three 3-point field goals, although the high volume shooting of Gary Neal and Chandler Parsons more readily stands out in my mind. Neal went 7-10 from outside, Parsons 4-8. I think that’s because, if you read the play-by-play breakdown of the game, you’ll see that, between the Rockets 20 second timeout with 5:48 left in the 4th quarter and when Omer Asik checks back in with 3:20 to play, the only made baskets are 3-pointers by Gary Neal and Chandler Parsons. Given his career-high 29 points, you could argue Neal won that pissing contest.
- In case tonight’s offensive showcase caused you to come down with a bout of short-term memory loss, you’ll remember that the Rockets took the court without their best player, James Harden. Much like during an electrifying stretch last season during which the New York Knicks went without Carmelo Anthony, Jeremy Lin seized the opportunity to play the alpha male role and scored 38 points, tying his career high. The national media reacted to Lin’s success last season with a deafening roar. That will be more muted now that he’s in Houston. But plenty of national pundits are almost certain to ask the same questions they had about Lin last season: he’s terrific on his own, but how is he best utilized when playing alongside a superstar?
- One thing I do know about Lin and Harden: If Harden had played, he would have had the ball in his hands on the second to last possession of regulation, in which case Lin wouldn’t have found himself stranded in the Green Zone. (Is that working it for you? I don’t know, I saw it on Twitter. I don’t love it, but I’m trying it out.) Danny Green absolutely swallowed up Jeremy Lin during a few key possessions in both regulation and overtime. People are steadily realizing that, late in games, he can be a lockdown isolation defender, an ability he’s shown flashes of since he started getting heavier minutes last season. He’s especially good at reacting to and disrupting the crossover, which is how he thwarted Lin on the penultimate play of regulation.
- On the following play, the final of regulation, it appeared that Gregg Popovich didn’t draw up the most imaginative play he’s ever concocted. Duncan caught the ball far from the basket, appeared to have few passing options, turned and dribbled to the hoop only to lose the ball as a number of defenders collapsed towards him. However, I’m not positive he was supposed to be the recipient of the inbounds pass. It seems more likely he was a release valve. It’s hard to be certain.
- This is the Spurs third overtime game of the season, and they’ve won them all. I’ve always felt confident when the Spurs head into overtime. Something about the opportunity to pause, collect themselves and remember that there’s a full five minutes to work with suits their personality. At times we overstate how composed the Spurs are at the end of games – they’re a terrific late game team, but they can get more flustered than we often admit to ourselves. However, if the game requires extra time, they have a terrific ability to find their composure between the 48th and 49th minute.