The San Antonio Spurs defeated the Houston Rockets in Game 2, 121-96. After suffering a blowout loss in Game 1, the Spurs made some key adjustments Wednesday night, which led to the big win.
It was a lackluster performance by the San Antonio Spurs in their 126-99 Game 1 loss to the Houston Rockets. NBA fans around the league were torn about how to take the outcome and what it meant for the veteran ball club.
Some believed it was a clear indication the older, slower Spurs could not hang with the run-and-gun Rockets, while others felt the Spurs were just thrown off, and would come out in Game 2 with the proper adjustments.
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The latter proved to be in the right.
From the opening jump, the San Antonio Spurs were in a much better place. They were hitting similar shots they missed in Game 1, were more active defensively and were adjusted to the speed at which the Rockets played. Some of this came naturally from the players, now knowing what they were up against in Game 1. But some of it was also a direct result of a few key adjustments made after the loss.
What teams don’t want to do when going up against a high-octane offense is fall into their trap of taking quick shots. If a team is not used to operating this way their offense will be less efficient, while allowing the quicker team to do what they want on offense.
This is exactly what the San Antonio Spurs allowed to happen in Game 1. They were taking too many shots without using the shot clock or moving the ball side to side. The few times they did use the clock they were not in rhythm and ended up with a poor shot. This was not the case in Game 2, where the Spurs were whipping passes around the court and finding open looks.
Along with better ball movement and shot selection was the increased aggressiveness and efficiency of Spurs players individually. Kawhi Leonard was back to his first round form, going for 34 points on 13-of-16 shooting after Game 1’s performance of 21 points on 5-of-14 shooting.
LaMarcus Aldridge, who was widely criticized after Game 1 (four points on 2-of-7 shooting) was far more aggressive in Game 2. He still wasn’t super efficient (6-of-14) but he was taking shots that he passed up in the first game which the team wanted to see. Now that he is shooting, the need for him to make the shots will come next.
Gregg Popovich realized that allowing his bigs to be switched at will onto James Harden wasn’t going to get the job done. To counter this they did a number of different things throughout Game 2.
First, they often put a guard on Rockets’ forward Ryan Anderson. This neutralized the threat of a Harden-Anderson pick-and-pop slightly because now on the screen either Green or Manu Ginobili were being switched on Harden. Leonard (who played primarily on Harden far more this game) was still a big enough body to switch onto Anderson.
The Spurs also did a lot of switching before screens were set. When they realized a big man was about to be switched onto Harden via a screen, said big would switch assignments with a guard before the screen was set. This way, the Rockets were already prepared for the pick, and couldn’t change the play as effectively.
Popovich altered his starting lineup by inserting Pau Gasol at center for David Lee. Gasol is a slightly better matchup for Rockets’ starting center Clint Capela than Lee due to his length. Capela was still effective offensively in Game 2 (14 points on 6-of-8 shooting) but had a considerable drop in rebounds, falling from 13 in the first game, to just three Wednesday night.
Popovich also went small for a large portion of this game. We saw just one big man on the court for a majority of both the second and fourth quarters. This played a key role when it came to the defensive schemes as players were able to switch at will and make rotations much quicker.
The smaller lineups also gave the Spurs more room to operate in the paint, whether it was drives from the perimeter, players cutting to the basket or post-ups. The openness of the court was essential for the offense that was stagnant and ineffective in the first game.
The Houston Rockets will undoubtedly have some counters for these adjustments made by the Spurs, but Popovich will likely have something new up his sleeve. And with Tony Parker now missing the rest of the playoffs, there will be a whole slew of changes made by both teams.