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Well, Well, Look What Just Got Interesting

By Jeff Koch on November 30, 2013.

Houston 112, San Antonio 106

The Rockets might be my least favorite team in the league. Since arriving in Houston and becoming a featured player, I’ve come to loathe James Harden’s game. I’ve never enjoyed Dwight Howard as a personality, and find him completely uninteresting as a player. And overrated. Team them up together and I can barely stand to watch them. On surface, their offense should be highly enjoyable, but it’s all isolation and drawing fouls. Sure, it’s uptempo and leads to lots of 3s and dunks, but there’s little precision and beauty to it. The end results may sometimes look similar, but it lacks the beauty of the Spurs’ offense. You know, the boring team.

But the Rockets are good and dangerous. I’ll concede that. They have skill and a system that can beat just about any given team on any given night. The Spurs seemed quite content to play into the narrative, too, getting down by 23 in the first half, and then again by 17 in the third quarter.

With a team like Houston, though, a comeback is never out of grasp. With the pace and their poor defense (another difference from the Spurs), an opposing team is never more than a heartbeat away from a 14-0 run to get right back into it. So the Spurs made their run(s), the Rockets made theirs, and suddenly it was a tie game with just a few minutes to play.

And nothing broke the Spurs way down the stretch. Which often happens when you spend the whole game digging yourself out of a hole. Still, the Spurs had a great chance to win this game down the stretch, which seemed almost impossible early in the game.

That’s the bright side. Now let’s look at some no-so-bright side.

A subtle thing happened down the stretch of the game. Both Bonner and Belinelli played crunch time minutes. Offensively, this makes a lot of sense, as they both spread the floor and match how Houston most frequently plays, and Belinelli was scorching hot in the game. (I’m in giddy amazement at how quickly he has acclimated to this team and system. It’s like he’s been a Spur his whole life, and he adds so much more than Neal.)

But they were both put in the game to replace players who were severely crippling our offense: Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Leonard is still thriving in many areas, but his outside shooting is ice cold. Now that Duncan seems to be in a bit more of a rhythm, the spotlight on Kawhi’s poor shooting start to the season is much hotter. His poor shooting shrinks our offense and eliminates the space necessary for it to run efficiently. And Green is in some sort of larger, extended funk. Not just his shooting, but his whole offensive mindset is just off. He seems to be forcing shots, his handle is still shaky, and his passing is also regressing. He had one bad TO late on an errant pass. With both shooting so poorly, our offense is completely ineffective.

So Pop was forced to replace both in crunch time. Unfortunately, Leonard and Green are still our two best perimeter defenders (and both are having superb seasons on that end). Once both left the floor, Harden was able to get loose, Parsons was able to get loose, and the Rockets offense, sputtering late in the 3rd and for most of the 4th, came back to life and did more than our offense could.

Green is a role player, and as such, is touch and go. Some nights he’ll have it, some he won’t. We need his offense to come around in general, but we can overcome his. But Leonard is a different story. Leonard needs to be on the court in crunch time, and the staff needs to trust that he can be there. This is the first time I’ve ever seen him pulled for hurting the offense like that. Much of the manufactured story lines to start the season revolved around Kawhi, and while we don’t need him to be the superstar people seem to be in a rush to crown him as, we do need him to be his usual intangibly great self, making winning plays on both ends.

It’s still early, and it’s certainly not panic time. But it is officially time to start tracking this. The Spurs are a great team and will continue to be successful. But getting back to the Finals is going to take a lot more than what we have now.

Thankfully, we’re barely out of December. Nobody runs the marathon better than the Spurs.

Up next, the Hawks come to San Antonio on Monday night.

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