Last night, the third-seeded Houston Rockets were demolished by a handicapped Spurs squad. Without the aid of Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs defeated the Rockets 114-75. How does this much-improved, offensive juggernaut Rockets squad get beat this bad, on their home court, in a must-win game? Well, I’m not really sure but I have some theories that may justify the confusion plaguing the masses that witnessed such a lop-sided affair.
- Taking Ryan Anderson out the starting lineup
Mike D’Antoni and the Rockets coaching staff made a game-time decision to swap out 6’10” stretch-four, Ryan Anderson, for 6’4″ sharpshooter, Eric Gordon. The rotation change was obviously adjusted so the Rockets could quicken the tempo of the game while also putting on a 3-point barrage to bury the Spurs early. But that plan failed miserably. The Rockets shot only 13-40 (32.5%) from the 3-point line. The height-dominating Spurs won the rebounding battle 60-37 and took advantage of the mismatches where James Harden, who fouled out, was forced to guard LeMarcus Aldridge in the post. Aldridge bulldozed Harden all night and recorded a game-high 34 points and added 12 rebounds; a stat which hadn’t been recorded since Tim Duncan and the Spurs faced off against the Phoenix Suns in 2008 (ESPN). Two other Spurs (Dejounte Murray, Pau Gasol) recorded double-doubles via points and rebounds.
- James Harden struggling under pressure
All night James Harden looked bent out of shape and lost. He shot just 2-11 from the field and had 6 unforced turnovers. He failed to score in the first quarter. And he could never help the Rockets recover the momentum and energy they needed in order to put themselves in a greater position to win. Only 3 Rockets players scored in double-figures; Rockets starting small forward, Trevor Ariza, had a team-high 20 points. On the contrary, the Spurs had 6 players score in double figures. It was like in Space Jam where the aliens stripped the talent from the NBA players so they could beat Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes. In theory, maybe some ambitious-seeking aliens stripped away James Harden’s talent. To add, Coach D’Antoni reported that Harden was also battling “a common cold.” Either way, something was bothering Harden last night which led to his abysmal performance.
- Popovich continuing to solidify his legendary legacy
ESPN commentator Michael Wilbon made the perfect tweet: “If LeBron should be MVP every year then Pop should be Coach of the Year every year.” With a game-time decision to bench Leonard (who could have played), due to sprained knee injury, and be without Tony Parker for remainder of playoffs, due to a ruptured quadricep tendon, Popovich still managed to work with what was remaining of the Spurs to not only win the game but win convincingly by a margin of 39 points! However, don’t be surprised about the Spurs winning without Leonard. During the 2016-17 regular season, the Spurs recorded a 7-1 record without Leonard active. No matter who Popovich has on his team, he always finds a gameplan that will be perfectly executed and that can beat any team on any given night. James Harden and the Rockets definitely learned this the hard way!