The Houston Rockets have evened up the series with the San Antonio Spurs, and they’ve won their two games in exactly the fashion they wanted to. While the Spurs have bogged the game down in games two and three, the Rockets found a way to break the chains that bound them and run loose in game four. In a series with this many twists and turns, sometimes it really is just as simple as playing your game and hitting shots.
The Rockets shot 44% from three while the Spurs hit a mere 30%. I don’t want to bury the lede, so here it is. When the Rockets can hit some open shots, there’s nearly nothing another team can do to stop it. The Spurs have some three point shooters, but they aren’t the den of snipers that general manager Daryl Morey has put together in Houston. The Rockets shot hotter than usual, but they also generated open look after open look. More importantly, they converted enough of them to shut the game down midway through the fourth quarter and cruise to a decisive victory.
The Rockets likely won’t shoot this well again. They also won’t need to to beat the Spurs. If they can maintain anything above about 35% from deep, they should be able to outscore whatever San Antonio throws at them. There is, of course, no guarantee they’ll manage to do so. Role players are usually better at home, and the crucial game five is in San Antonio. We’ve also seen that this series is less a continuum and more of a binary: either the Spurs win or the Rockets do, and the two look nothing like each other.
When the Spurs can rattle the Rockets, their shots stop falling and the whole offense falls apart. The game gets grimy and ugly and the Spurs get enough offense through excellent coaching and superstar freebies to make it past the Rockets’ middling defense. In fact, the 104 points the Spurs put up tonight would have been enough to win either game two or three, both of which featured the Rockets scoring under a hundred.
The San Antonio offense is a constant. It’s reliant enough on Kawhi Leonard and opportunism that they’ll score about a hundred no matter what. The determining factor in this series, and the only thing that makes sense, is how the Rockets run their offense. When James Harden looks engaged and keyed in, the Rockets seem unstoppable on that end.
For whatever reason, and there are many that may or may not be relevant, James Harden bounced back tonight. He finished the night with 28 points on 10-18 shooting to go with 12 assists and 5 rebounds. He was finding the open man, shredding the defense, and wasn’t a drain on the opposite end. Apart from a brief scare when he bumped knees, it was all biscuits and gravy for Houston’s superstar.
The role players also picked up the slack in a way they haven’t been able to previously. Ryan Anderson played a lot of minutes at center, which was mostly a revelation. It opened the offense and the Rockets weren’t meaningfully worse on defense in this case. Rebounding was an issue, but hitting shots makes mediocre rebounding an easier pill to swallow. Even Sam Dekker got some burn, in which he looked both excited to be there and also too excited to be there.
a couple dark clouds still loom, though. Nene left the game early and headed straight to the hospital with a left groin injury. As yet it’s unclear what the prognosis is, but the lack of a key rotation player can’t help. Patrick Beverley played through the tragic news of his grandfather’s passing, relayed to him a mere hour before the game. This loss looms larger than any mere basketball outing, and our collective hearts go out to him, and I think we’re collectively impressed that he had the resolve to play anyway.
The series shifts to San Antonio now as the Rockets must win two out of three to advance to the next round. The Spurs still have home court back, but at 2-2, this series is set to move into the final stage. Both teams will play their game, and one team will come out on top each night. So far, the only difference is that when the Rockets can hit threes, they shred the opposition, and when they clank them, they get smothered.
For the Rockets, they now just need to go out there and hit shots. They just have to play their game.