This week on TDS Tuesday, we discuss Nene’s injury and its effects and how to stop these pesky Spurs.
This week’s panelists include Ethan Rothstein (ER), Jeremy Brener (JB), Max Croes (MC), Darren Yuvan (DY), and Adam Sweeney (AS).
Continue these debates in the comments below!
1. What has surprised you the most through the first four games?
ER: Other than Nene's injury, I'm racking my brain to come up with anything and nothing comes to mind. It's gone exactly how I thought it would go: different Rockets would step up every game, it'd be a tight series over all, but the Rockets would either be red hot or ice cold and the score would reflect that. Harden and Kawhi have been brilliant. Capela has been magnificent. Aldridge, Gasol and Co. have been spotty, as have most of the Rockets' supporting cast. And my prediction, Rockets in 6, is still in play.
JB: I think the fact that both teams have played very inconsistently in this series is what surprises me the most. The Spurs were flatter than Kyrie Irving’s depiction of the Earth in Game 1, and the Rockets were cold in Game 2 and 3, yet bounced back in Game 4. No individual player has been able to play well in every game, which is why we have seen four games decided by double digits. If both teams can buckle down and play their game, we are going to see fireworks down the stretch.
MC: Houston's offense bending to San Antonio's adjustments, especially in games two and three. The Rockets accepted mid-range jumpers, took lots of floaters and allowed themselves to be chased off the three-point line by the Spurs.
DY: That these games have been mostly blowouts. These are two evenly matched teams that played four tight contests in the regular season. So while the 2-2 series is obviously tight in the win column, the games have not been close. I expected some nail-biters on the scoreboard, but that hasn't been the case thus far. I think the individual games will be much closer from here on out.
AS: The lack of any real nail-biters in a game so far stuns me, and is symptomatic of a bigger issue in the NBA Playoffs as a whole. My guess is that we go seven games and then we finally see a tight game, depending on how the refs decide to impact the game. By the way, can we just one time get a whistle on Kawhi Leonard moving his pivot foot more than Fred Astaire? Geez.
2. On a scale of 1-10, how much does Nene's injury hurt the Rockets going forward?
ER: In this series, a 5. In the next one? A 9. I think the Spurs' bigs are too slow and inefficient to truly punish the Rockets for going small, and for the 30-plus minutes the Swiss Roll will be on the floor, the Rockets will still have the best big man. But any puncher's chance the Rockets have at upsetting the Warriors likely goes out the window if they're not at full strength. Nene has been a reliable source of offense when the shots don't fall. Ryno at the 5 doesn't work on the nights he shoots 1-9.
JB: I’ll say a 4. Nene has not been great in this series, but he is always someone that can explode and have a huge game, and looking at the start of his Game 4, it looked like he was putting something nice together. Having Nene as a post presence is something the Rockets will miss, but it is not as huge of a need in the grand scheme of things. Clint Capela, Ryan Anderson, and Sam Dekker can cover the load and it will force the Rockets to play small.
MC: Seven. It hurts Houston's ability to manage San Antonio's rotation of bigs. D'Antoni has been toggling between Capela and Nene at center to deal with at least one of the SA bigs. This cements serious minutes for Ryan Anderson at center (sorry Trez lovers, I still don't see it).
DY: It definitely hurts given the Spurs' size. I'd probably give it a 6. Luckily, the Rockets have the personnel to play some serious small ball, so there are adjustments to be made on their end. I can't see them going away from it against the Spurs, as there's just no way they can counter the San Antonio front line with the players that they have left, so they have to take a different approach. If they can force the Spurs to play keep up, the Rockets have a real chance.
AS: A 9, because there is now no real complement to Clint Capela. The duo seemed to alternate games with respect to dominance, and each battle has its own flow, so it is concerning that Gregg Popovich can now focus entirely on game-planning for the Swiss Army Knife. The Spurs own the Rockets in terms of low-post size, and even though I think Pau Gasol is a human-sized Ball Park Frank wiener, he and LaMarcus Aldridge can take over if nobody steps up. Memo to ALL Rockets players; put an ass on someone and BOX OUT.
3. Who should get Nene's minutes now that he’s out for the postseason?
ER: I understand the tendency to want to throw Montrezl Harrell out there, but newsflash: Trez has been pretty invisible on the court since about February. His trademark energy wasn't at its earlier level as he was getting fewer minutes, and he doesn't do enough things well to make up for the dip in intensity. I'm sure he'd get up for the playoffs. But Nene and Capela each shoot close to 70 percent around the rim. Trez is far lower, and that drop in efficiency is why Ryno or Capela are the only reasonable options at the 5.
JB: I love Harrell’s energy, but I’m going to pick Sam Dekker with this answer. Dekker is a more versatile player, and although he cannot play the 5 like Nene did, he can stretch the floor and offer more open space for the rest of the team. He allows the Rockets to play more smallball as well, which is the Rockets’ bread and butter in this series. I expect Capela to absorb most of these minutes, however, but Dekker will see about 10-12 minutes per game the rest of the way.
MC: Houston wants to run San Antonio's bigs off the floor and exploit them. Anderson should get the minutes as a backup center and Dekker should get fill in time to help push the pace.
The case against Montrezl Harrell: Harrell doesn't have the size to effectively defend or rebound against Aldridge or Gasol. Anderson can contest the Spurs rebounding power. San Antonio has also done a spectacular job of sniffing out pick-and-roll lobs, which is Harrell's bread and butter. He needs to play a smaller team to be effective down low (like the Warriors, hilariously).
DY: It's got to be Dekker. The Rockets have no chance to match size with the Spurs now that Nene is out. They have to run them off the floor with the long ball and the fast break. Dekker presents the best opportunity to do that. Montrezl Harrell likely gets swallowed up inside and provides no outside shooting to speak of to open the floor up. Inserting him would allow the Spurs to play to one of their strengths. By using Dekker off the bench and Ryan Anderson at the five, the Rockets force San Antonio to play outside of their comfort zone a little.
AS: Let's see what Sam Dekker can do. I want to see the Rockets go full-on 7 Seconds or Less and dare the Spurs bigs to match them. Good luck. If the shots are falling then Houston owns the night. And can Ryan Anderson get in and stretch the defense? It would be nice to see. The lesson we have learned, no matter who is in the line-up, is that aggression is the key to beating the Spurs. Game 3 showed a Rockets team that was settling for shots and panicking by throwing up floaters. Game 4 was a reversion to true H-Town basketball. I want to see more of that.
4. What is the key to stopping the Spurs?
ER: Timely rotations. They're the Rockets' Achilles heel. The Spurs move the ball better than just about anyone, and if the Rockets miss a step, their shooters are good enough to punish them for it. But if the Rockets are moving on a string like they did for most of Game 4, they can swallow these Spurs whole (when they have Capela-Ariza-Harden-Gordon-Beverley, four above-average-to-great defenders and one underrated one). When Ryno is on the floor as the lone big, the best defense is a great offense.
JB: You stop the Spurs by forcing them to play uptempo. Speeding up the game leads San Antonio to make mistakes, and the Rockets love to speed the game up. If the Rockets can execute the real “7 Seconds or Less” offense, the Spurs won’t be able to keep up and the Rockets will win this series.
MC: The Rockets don’t want to stop the Spurs, they want to outscore them. On defense, Houston has to make players other than Kawhi beat them. Stop leaping at three-point pump fakes from Jonathon Simmons, Dejounte Murray and Kyle Anderson. Close out on those shots, but let them take the shot. That's the shot you want San Antonio to take. By leaping out at these shots, Simmons and Murray just put the ball on the floor at get to the basket. Let them shoot. Don't let Kawhi or Patty Mills shoot from out there.
DY: The best defense is a good offense, and if the Rockets can keep the Spurs off balance with a fast-paced attack that will force San Antonio to try and keep up with Houston, and they Spurs don't quite have the players to match the Rockets in that scenario. Again, force them out of their comfort zone and make them try to keep pace. More often than not, they won't be able to do it if Houston is doing what they should on offense.
AS: Push the damn ball. The Spurs are at their best, like all teams, when they have time to set up their defense. So what is the equalizer to size? Speed. Aldridge and Gasol can't beat the ghost of Bea Arthur in a footrace so transition offense is critical. And I'll say it again. Box out. Rebound. Effort and energy go a long way.
5. Who wins the series?
ER: Rockets in 6. Can't waver now.
JB: Head says Spurs in 7, but my gut says Rockets in 6. And I always trust my gut.
MC: I predicted Houston in six games. I feel shaky as hell about it but will stick by it.
DY: My initial pick was Rockets in 7 and I'll stick with that. I think this is definitely a seven-game series, and I like The Beard in a winner-takes-all scenario.
AS: My head is telling me that the Spurs will win in Game 7 because Pop and Friends will ride the refs like they're in the Kentucky Derby. But I will never support the Spurs, even in a prediction, because their fans are such big Homers that they could start a spin-off of "The Simpsons." H-Town, all day, and every day. We will use collective energy and channel the spirit within James Harden's beard to win this. Rockets in 7 and we will celebrate afterwards by laughing at how lame the chants Spurs fans are. Red Nation, my friends.