May 12, 2017 at 03:28AM / by Scott Polacek via Bleacher Report — Front Page

There are few bigger constants in life than the San Antonio Spurs, and they proved so again Thursday with a commanding 114–75 victory over the Houston Rockets in Game 6 of their second-round playoff series.

San Antonio clinched its 11th trip to the Western Conference Finals in the last 23 seasons with the win at the Toyota Center. Even more impressively, it did so after it announced Kawhi Leonard was out with a sprained ankle.

Tony Parker was already out with a ruptured quadriceps tendon, so LaMarcus Aldridge picked up the slack with a double-double of 34 points and 12 rebounds. His effort was part of a dominant team performance:

As for Houston, the lackluster effort stunned the home fans with elimination hanging in the balance. MVP candidate James Harden finished with 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting, although Clint Capela (15 points and 12 rebounds) and Trevor Ariza (20 points and five three-pointers) played well.

San Antonio’s Team Effort Overwhelms Houston

SportsCenter put San Antonio’s starting lineup of Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Patty Mills, Danny Green and Jonathon Simmons into perspective:

Even without the famous faces who have defined his tenure, head coach Gregg Popovich pulled the right strings and had his team pounding the blocks and moving the ball with precision.

The Spurs specifically targeted Harden on the blocks, and the frontcourt combination of Aldridge and Gasol (10 points, 11 rebounds and five assists) carried the offense for extended stretches.

The team appreciated Aldridge’s 16-of-26 mark from the field:

The ball movement was necessary with Leonard out, and the Spurs tallied 32 assists compared to 22 Houston field goals and extended their lead to more than 40 in the second half.

Dan Devine of Yahoo’s Ball Don’t Lie joked about Leonard’s absence:

Simmons turned heads with his defense and ability to slash the lane, which led to a lofty comparison from Matt Moore of CBS Sports:

Elsewhere, Mills and Green dictated the pace and operated the offense from the backcourt, but it was Aldridge who reminded the NBA world he is a five-time All-Star with a vintage performance. He had four points in Game 1 and reached the 20-point mark only once in the first five games of the series but saved his best performance for when Leonard was out.

The result was a spot in the Western Conference Finals.

James Harden Leads Houston’s Disappearance

You would have been forgiven if you expected Harden to come through with a monster performance with his team facing elimination and Leonard not hounding him. ESPN Stats & Info highlighted the difference in Harden’s effectiveness when the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year defended him in the first five games:

However, Harden did the exact opposite and responded with a mere two field goals and six turnovers even though Leonard was watching from the sidelines. He didn’t even attempt a single field goal in the first quarter and had as many turnovers (five) as points at the half.

The result was a disjointed effort from the entire offense, as evidenced by 13 turnovers and 28.6 percent shooting from the field.

The Rockets at least had summer vacation to look forward to, as Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News pointed out:

Houston wilted under the playoff pressure, but plenty of credit goes to San Antonio’s stifling defense. After all, it was №1 in the league in defensive rating during the regular season, per, and contested the three ball and swarmed the driving lanes throughout the contest.

Replicating that formula against the two-time reigning conference champion Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals will not be easy, but the Spurs demonstrated their vast defensive potential without their best defensive player Thursday.

Originally published on Blogger

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