The Rockets fell to the Spurs on Saturday night, 104-94. If there was any momentum built from the dramatic come from behind win over the Portland Trail Blazers, it was quickly forgotten. The Spurs jumped out to a double-digit first quarter lead after the Rockets were only able to put up 11 points.
The rest of the night was spent chipping away at the lead the Spurs had built in the first, at one point the opponents led by over 30 points. But like so many games from this season, the Rockets found a way to make their opponent sweat in the closing minutes. In the end, the Rockets just had to much of a lead to overcome. After the first quarter the Rockets outscored the Spurs 83-78.
James Harden vs. Kawhi Leonard, no thank you
In the first quarter when the Spurs were taking it to the Rockets, for some reason, James Harden was guarding Kawhi Leonard. Maybe it was pride, maybe it was switches, maybe it was they thought that was the right matchup, but whatever the reason for Harden guarding Leonard it was an awful choice.
Harden played decent defense, but Leonard was just too much. He was able to rise up over the top of Harden and just nail jumpers. The Spurs kept going to this matchup even when Leonard gave it up they would give it right back to him when he repositioned himself on the block.
Throughout the rest of the game, the Rockets would use a few more bodies on Leonard, Josh Smith and Trevor Ariza among them. Leonard finished with 27 points on the night on 8-13 shooting, and most of those eight shots made were when Harden was on him.
Harden did do a good job bodying Leonard up, staying with him and contesting his shots. But Harden just doesn't offer the same amount of length other defenders like Ariza can.
Going forward, hopefully, Ariza will be matched up with another team's best offensive player, rather than Harden.
The Rockets couldn't handle the ball movement
Earlier on, especially in the first quarter, the Rockets were beaten by the extra pass. As odd as it sounds, the Rockets played decent defense but just couldn't do it for a full 24 seconds and the Spurs kept passing the ball around until they found the open man.
The Rockets had a hard time tracking the Spurs movement while they were moving the ball around. Multiple times the Spurs would move the ball so much, just to get someone free under the basket for a dunk.
The ball movement also caused so many mismatches. There were a few times when Patrick Beverley was matched up with Tim Duncan, and that was strictly as a result of the movement.
The Spurs on Saturday night passed the ball 342 times and had 24 assists, the Rockets passed the ball 286 times and had 19 assists.
James Harden: A lonely life
The Rockets still have not figured out how to survive when James Harden is not on the court. Since returning from the All-Star break Harden leads the NBA in minutes played per game with 41.3, and why, you might ask? Well, when Harden leaves the game the Rockets can't function.
Saturday night, Harden went out with two minutes left in the first and would come back in around the eight-minute mark in the second quarter. While he was on the bench the Rockets only were able to manage score six points while they turned it over three times.
The Rockets tried to dump it into Dwight Howard, that didn't work. Ty Lawson was in the game and was ineffective. No one was able to take command. You know the saying "there are a lot of Indians and not any Chiefs?" When Harden is out of the game that is exactly what it looks like.