Spurs Take 2–1 Lead Over Rockets

On Friday evening at the Toyota Center, the San Antonio Spurs beat the Houston Rockets 103–92 to take a 2–1 lead in the best of seven series.

A back-and-forth first half ensued in a 43–39 Spurs lead. In the first half, Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard had 10 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists while LaMarcus Aldridge had 12 points and Pau Gasol chipped in nine.

Following a porous 13-point Game 2, James Harden matched that production in the first two quarters of Game 3, while Trevor Ariza had 15 points on 5–9 shooting from downtown.

With a four-point lead in hand, the Spurs started the second half on a 9–4 run, pushing their lead to nine. But the resilient James Harden poured in the Rockets next 12 points, before a Clint Capela layup capped off a 14–6 Houston run to narrow the gap to just one, 58–57.

That was as close as the Rockets would get.

The Spurs answered with an 8–0 run of their own, and seized a six point lead heading into the final frame.

With 7:28 remaining and facing a 77–72 deficit, Harden lost his cool and picked up a technical foul. LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard scored the Spurs next 11 points en route to an 11–4 run. Danny Green canned two more from downtown for good measure, and the game was effectively out of reach.

The Spurs did come away with the victory, but were absent a familiar teammate. For the first time since 2001, San Antonio played a playoff game without point guard Tony Parker, who suffered a ruptured quadriceps tendon in the fourth quarter of Game 2.

Parker had surgery to repair the tendon on Friday, and faces an eight-month recovery. Through 8 playoff games, he was averaging 15.9 points and 3.1 assists.

After shooting just 1–11 from distance in the first half, the Spurs knocked down 8–14 in the second frame.

Leonard finished with 26 points and 10 boards. Also, after setting a career high with 8 assists in Game 2, he had another seven in this one, taking advantage of the increased ball handling duties without Parker, particularly in the pick and roll.

In place of Parker, the Spurs started rookie Dejounte Murray, sticking with Patty Mills in the second unit. Still, Murray played just 14 minutes to Mills’ 30.

Aldridge had 26 points (12–20 FG), 7 boards and four blocks after notching just 9.5 points, 7.5 rebounds on 36 percent shooting through the first two games. In what was a throwback performance for the five-time All Star, Aldridge repeatedly knocked down turnaround midrange jumpers and finally looked comfortable in a complementary role.

As for the Rockets, James Harden finished with 43 points, 5 assists and 3 steals and knocked down 11–14 from the line. The team, however, got little out of their supporting cast.

After a strong first half, Ariza had just two points in the second frame, while Clint Capela finished the game with 12 points and 16 rebounds. No other Rocket scored in double figures.

In fact, Eric Gordon, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Ryan Anderson and Nene combined to shoot 6–36 from the field and 2–14 from three. Needless to say, the Rockets supporting cast weren’t very supportive.

For the second straight game, the Spurs limited the Rockets’ fast break points, holding Houston to just nine, a steep dropoff from the 16.7 a game they averaged during the regular season. In other words, the Spurs slowed the game down, and the Rockets didn’t execute often enough in the halfcourt.

According to Who Wins, the Spurs victory was pivotal. Teams that take a 2–1 lead win the series 80% of the time. Of course that doesn’t mean the series is cooked, but to turn it around, the Rockets need to get out on the break and get something from players other than Harden.

With a historic offense and ability to get blistering hot from three, it’d be foolish to count out the Houston Rockets. But history says the odds aren’t are their side.