Houston Rockets: Takeaways from Game 2 loss to Spurs

Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Rockets lost Game 2 to the San Antonio Spurs but were still able to steal home-court advantage. What are the key takeaways from the loss?

Before we get in to the takeaways from the 121-96 win for the San Antonio Spurs over the Houston Rockets, let me speak to Rockets fans for just a moment. Everything is going to be okay. The world is not ending and the Rockets are not collapsing. The Spurs won a must-win game at home by hitting tough shots and out-hustling Houston.

There were too many fans on Twitter overreacting to this loss for the Rockets. Yes, the Spurs controlled the game from start to finish, but the Rockets were down just five to start the fourth quarter even with James Harden having arguably his worst game of the playoffs.

The takeaways from this game are less clear than normal losses. On the surface it seems the Spurs out-hustled the Rockets, hit tough shots, and benefited from a poor game from Harden. With that being said, let’s try to take something away from this loss that now evens up the series.

1. More discipline needed defensively

The Spurs enjoy slowing down the pace and executing in the half-court. On the other hand, the Rockets want to run at any opportunity. However, when the Spurs are able to get a hold of the game and control the pace, their methodical offense based on ball movement puts pressure on a Rockets defense that isn’t able to withstand that sort of pressure for long stretches of games.

There were several possessions where the Rockets played very good defense for 17-20 seconds of a possession, only to have a crucial breakdown or miscommunication in the final seconds of the shot clock to give the Spurs a good look.

Those sorts of defensive breakdowns are killers, especially when the Rockets are executing their offense to perfection on the other end of the floor.

However, players like Harden and Patrick Beverley have to start playing better off-ball defense. This specifically focuses on Harden, who was clearly not engaged defensively early on in this game. Harden continuously lost sight of his man (who was usually Danny Green), which led to easy baskets for San Antonio.

The Spurs are sharks, and mismatches and disengaged defenders are the blood that gets them going offensively. They will continuously pound defensive disadvantages of the Rockets, so it is imperative that Houston brings more intensity and focus defensively in Game 3.

2. Attack San Antonio weaknesses on defense

In Game 1, the Rockets did a very good job of attacking the slow big men of the Spurs through setting numerous screens to get switches. However, in Game 2 the Rockets didn’t seek out those mismatches as much.

Now, some of that is because of the defense of Kawhi Leonard, who guarded Harden more often (and earlier in the game) than in previous games. Leonard’s ability to fight through and around screens allowed the Spurs to not switch each possession.

However, with Kawhi Leonard occasionally going under screens on Harden, Houston can certainly screen more to get the favorable matchup on offense. Now, in Game 2 Harden seemed to be affected by a hip injury he suffered early in the game, and didn’t have his usual explosiveness and jump, which prevented him from exposing the Spurs’ big men consistently.

With the Spurs inserting Pau Gasol in the starting lineup in Game 2 (and one would expect him to stay in that spot), the Rockets have the opportunity to hunt out LaMarcus Aldridge or Gasol every possession down until the Spurs are forced to trap or double Harden. That way the Houston can put consistent pressure on the Spurs.

With the series now tied 1-1, Game 3 in Houston is crucial for both teams to grab command of the series. The Spurs came out with more energy in Game 2, while the Rockets (and especially Harden) were a step slow. The Rockets must continue to exploit San Antonio’s weaknesses and pick up the discipline defensively if they want to pull ahead in the series.

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