Friday's game is now a must win for the Rockets, who play the Spurs again at home, because San Antonio now has an opportunity to leapfrog over the Rockets in the standings if they win.
Between Houston, New Orleans, the Clippers, Memphis and San Antonio, the playoff seeding confuses the hell out of me. Therefore, let's get to Wednesday night's game in San Antonio:
As we all know, and could have easily predicted, the Spurs have been rolling. They've accumulated 19 wins in their last 22 games.
Tony Parker was questionable leading up to tonight's game due to an achilles injury that kept him out of the second half of last night's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But that was clearly bullshit.
Parker scored 13 points in the first quarter, setting the tone by attacking the rim. The Spurs played inside-out basketball through TP, who got his confidence going early with a couple easy layups; And when he got it going, the floor opened up for his teammates outside.
Tonight Tony Parker taught me if my Achilles tendon is "tender" I should lace up my J's and drop 27 points. Can't believe I fell for that.— Dimitri Skoumpourdis (@The_GoldenGreek) April 9, 2015
James Harden scored a quick 13 points in the first quarter, but only scored 2 in the second. In the last three quarters combined, he only tallied 13 points: He shot three-for-five from the field in the first quarter and three-for-eight in the last three.
The Rockets were up by as many as nine points in the second quarter, but the Spurs soon turned up the intensity.
Free throws were big. Harden usually gets to the free-throw line at will, but he wasn't able to get the calls in the second half. While on his scoring tear to start the game, Harden attempted and connected on all six of his free throws. But through the next three quarters, he only got one shooting foul called in his favor.
Harden finished the game with 22 points, four rebounds, four assists and a steal—still a good stat line even with his field-goal percentage.
The Spurs certainly played better defense on Harden in the second half. The Beard attempted fewer shots than he usually does and went 6-for-15 from field-goal range by the end of regulation.
Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are a stellar combination of defenders, and they did as good of a job on Harden as anyone can do—but it wasn't just the perimeter defense that kept Harden at bay. San Antonio's perimeter defenders know they have guys behind them that they trust; And tonight, they knew the help defense would be there, so they were confident to try to push Harden where they wanted.
Leonard or "The Klaw", whose nickname I learned while watching the Spurs local broadcast, deserves a max contract. (By the way, I actually appreciate Clyde Drexler a tiny bit more after being forced to listen to Sean Elliot whine all night.)
But regardless of the lame nickname, The Klaw has been debatably a top 10 player in the league this past month; And he turned it on after Parker's hot first quarter.
San Antonio fought for a comfortable lead entering the second half, and Parker finished with 27 points through three quarters.
The Spurs were up 13 to start the fourth. And the rest is history.
Here's a breakdown of each team's scoring numbers in the last four minutes of each quarter: (Obviously, it was already a blowout by the the last four minutes of the fourth quarter.)
- I didn't want to write about turnovers for the millionth time in a row tonight.
- Even though he was still on a timetable, Dwight Howard continued to give me hope for these upcoming playoffs. We will need him even more now that Donatas Motiejunas is out for the rest of the season and entire playoffs due to a back injury. Howard scored six points and grabbed seven rebounds in seven minutes in the first quarter. He finished with 16 and 10 in 21 minutes of action.
- Ariza is still hot on the offensive end: He shot 7-for-12 from the field and five-for-six from deep for a grand total of 19 points in 34 minutes.
- Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich: "We can't go up and down with them, we'll lose that battle. ... [Limiting foul trips is] one of the things you try to do with [Harden]."
- Dallas is locked into the seventh seed in the Western Conference standings and is waiting to see who they're going to play at the two seed (which right now could be about 19 different teams).
- I'm never watching the local Spurs broadcast again.