Under the tutelage of general manager Daryl Morey the Houston Rockets ushered in a new age of team construction and statistics.
Even without Tony Parker, the Spurs showed their class to take control of this series and put the Rockets under immense pressure.
The Spurs were not hindered by the loss of four-time NBA champion Tony Parker on Saturday, running away with a comprehensive win in Houston. Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge stole the show, contributing 26 points each, as San Antonio displayed yet again why they can never be discounted in the postseason.
As for the Rockets, James Harden lit up the stats sheet, scoring 43. But there was no help. Despite Harden’s heroics, the Rockets never looked likely to win this latest encounter, and will quickly need others to step up if they are to challenge Gregg Popovich’s experienced side.
Three Houston players managed to score in double digits on Saturday – Harden, Trevor Ariza (17) and Clint Capela (12). Five Spurs players did the same, including Patty Mills’ 15 points off the bench. Mills outscored the Rockets’ entire bench, which managed ten points in total.
If Mike D’Antoni’s side are going to get their playoffs campaign back on track, they will need others besides Harden to step up on offence. They can take solace from the fact that, despite back-to-back defeats, the Rockets have been able to prove the doubters wrong all season long. They have the talent to do so again on Monday.
Don’t panic. The Spurs may have had their measure over the last two games, but the Rockets need to stick to what they know. That includes running up the tempo on offence and pushing the ageing San Antonio side to the limit on the physical front.
They did as much in Game 1, when they ran out comfortable winners. Crucially, Houston’s bench will need to step up in Game 4 if their side is to stand a chance.
San Antonio Spurs
The big men are delivering the goods for the Spurs, so keep feeding them. Aldridge had his best postseason performance to date in Game 3, while veteran Pau Gasol also made an impact with 12 points of his own. The Spurs have sometimes been guilty of over-relying on Leonard’s heroics this season, but when the big men step up the workload is shared.
Rockets projected starting lineup
PG – James Harden | SG – Patrick Beverley | SF – Trevor Ariza | PF – Ryan Anderson | C – Clint Capela
Spurs projected starting lineup
PG – Dejounte Murray | SG – Danny Green | SF – Kawhi Leonard | PF – LaMarcus Aldridge | C – Pau Gasol
Despite being outplayed most recently, it’s hard to see the Rockets losing twice in a row on home court. They’ll need to be at their best to square the series, but with Harden in form and his teammates due to step up, the teams will go back to San Antonio locked at 2-2.