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Take It Back

By Jeff Koch on May 6, 2017.

2017 Western Conference Semifinals
San Antonio 103, Houston 92
Spurs lead series 2-1

Faced with a tough decision, Pop chose the most conventional and also highest risk option.

It seemed almost impossible that Pop would start Murray in a 2nd round playoff game. The regular season is one thing; but Pop is loathe to trust rookies in the playoffs, and Murray’s growth had been retarded by a nagging injury that kept him out the last month of the season.

To be fair, Murray was shaky. Being thrown into your first playoff start on the road is one thing; having it also be against Patrick Beverley is another. He is to PGs what Tony Allen is to wings. He is relentless and will prey on the slightest hint of weakness. The first few possessions were bad. And yet, Murray remained poised and collected, and finished his 14 minutes a team high +14. Basically, he didn’t lose the game, and that was enough.

Elsewhere, LaMarcus finally showed up to the series, playing tough late and really giving the team the push in the 4th quarter that got them the margin that would eventually lead to victory. It was an ugly game all-around, and LaMarcus embodied the team’s “pounding the rock” mantra; in the 4th quarter, that rock finally broke.

The Spurs turned it over 21 times, leading to 25 Rockets points. The Rockets shot 36% from the field. Kawhi was decidedly average (by his standards); Harden scored 47% of the Rockets total points, yet seemed to drift in and out of the game. It was the type of playoff game we’ve become accustomed to seeing over the years, the type of grind-it-out affair that leaves the losing team broken down and demoralized. The type of game that favors the Spurs in this series.

We’ve now seen three very distinct games in this series. A blowout; an offensive battle that is decided by one team’s late run; and a grind-it-out defensive battle decided by one team making fewer mistakes in the 4th quarter. The first two types  likely favor the Rockets, while the third favors the Spurs.

But the Spurs stole that second game, out-offensiing the second best offense in the league. They now sit in prime position to regain control of the series.

The question is: which type of game do we think is most emblematic of this series? What will see more of in Games 4 and 5? The Spurs defense seems to have figured out a working solution to the Rockets offense; but the Rockets offense also seems poised to have a big game at some point soon.

The deeper series run, the more likely they are to become back-and-forth grind-it-out in the mud types of series. Advantage Spurs. The Spurs also seem to have better poise, better execution, and better trust in their system. Advantage Spurs. But the Rockets might have an offensive gear that the Spurs can’t match, and a wild-card (3-point shooting) that the Spurs won’t match. Advantage Rockets.

After three games, I feel like we’re no closer to understanding this series than before Game 1. With the loss of Parker, it becomes even more confusing. If this game was a neutral game for Murray, what is more likely moving forward: a positive game or a negative game?

We’ve seen one great Kawhi performance, one good but not great performance, and one underwhelming performance. Which is more likely in the next two games?

Harden has been up and down the whole series, even vacillating within games. He looks a bit banged up (and is possibly sick). Which Harden seems most likely to appear?

Can Aldridge repeat Game 3’s performance?

Can Gasol continue to fortify the interior defense?

Will the Rockets shooters regain their shooting touch? Game 1 excepted, they actually haven’t been shooting well this post-season, despite their easy series win in Round 1.

Will the Spurs bench outplay the Rockets bench in Houston again?

144 minutes of data, and there are still more questions than answers.

Game 4 will be huge. A Spurs win would put a vice-grip on this series. Much like in Game 2 with the Rockets, the natural tendency will be for the Rockets to play desperate and for the Spurs to ease up a bit. The Rockets are favorites. I hope like hell the Spurs get greedy and steal another one on the road.

Game 4 is Sunday night.

Go Spurs Go.