Houston Threw a Three-Point Fiesta and the Spurs Were Invited

Here’s one take on the Spurs’ historically bad Game 1 loss to the Rockets: nobody could’ve seen it coming.

Houston knocked down an franchise-playoff-record 22 three-point shots, each one slowly draining the life out of the once-buoyant AT&T Center crowd. The Rockets looked every bit the offensive juggernaut they were in the regular season while disrupting any flow the Spurs tried to establish on the other end.'

By half-time, the game was already out of reach with Houston up 69-39 (yes, really), and yet they refused to let up in the third period, executing perfectly both in the half-court and in transition.

Here’s another: it wasn’t that surprising, either.

Not that you would’ve called it before tip-off, of course. Or even following Gregg Popovich’s abrupt timeout (just 80 seconds into the game), after David Lee gave up an open James Harden three.

Yet, it became apparent early on that the Spurs’ two-big-man lineup wasn’t going to work against Houston’s unforgiving, spread pick-and-roll attack. Whether it was Lee, LaMarcus Aldridge or Pau Gasol, the Rockets had a field day with the Spurs’ lead-footed frontcourt. Their ball-handlers were able to create open shots either from behind the arc or right at the basket. It was the platonic ideal of a Mike D’Antoni-coached team, pushing the tempo and producing efficient looks on what seemed to be every possession. And for the majority of the game, Gregg Popovich did little to respond, maintaining a similar rotation that he used against Memphis, a fundamentally different team from Houston.

The reality, of course, lies somewhere in the middle; basketball isn’t so simple that you can blame one thing or one person for a loss this lop-sided.

People will try, though, and many will start with LaMarcus Aldridge. The power forward was meant to be the most dominant big man in this series, and the Spurs would need him to impose his will on the low block against the smaller Ryan Anderson. Instead, Aldridge struggled to establish a rhythm against Houston double teams and was preyed upon anytime he had to defend James Harden on the perimeter. In the 25 minutes LA spent on the floor, the Spurs were outscored by a whopping 36 points.

Even that only tells part of the story. The Spurs were horrendous at taking advantage of the many open looks they were given, and seemingly every player missed a point-blank shot. You could cite every coaching trope, from “effort” to “execution” and make the case that the Rockets were better.

The most fight the home team showed was when one appeared to almost break out at the end of the third quarter. A war of words would result in Nene’s hand on Dewayne Dedmon’s neck, which was good enough to have the Rockets center ejected. Not to be outdone, Dedmon would manage to get thrown out in the fourth quarter, while jawing with guard Patrick Beverley at the free-throw line.

The good news is, there’s plenty for Pop and Company to improve upon. It’s only Game 1, and the Rockets may not put up a better performance all series. But it’ll take a sharper approach from everyone, including the Hall of Fame coach, to bounce back against such a talented squad.

The Spurs’ chance to even the series is Wednesday night at 8:30pm, in San Antonio.
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