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Rockets vs Spurs: Breaking Down the Game 1 Beatdown

Houston Rockets

Rockets vs Spurs: Breaking Down the Game 1 Beatdown

Taking a look at how the Houston Rockets stunned the world with a Game 1 rout of the Spurs in San Antonio.

Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs Game 1

The Rockets posted a complete team victory in game 1 of their 2nd round series against the Spurs on Monday night, annihilating San Antonio 126-99 with all cylinders of their high-octane offense firing. There were too many highlights to mention–from a barrage of threes to a chant of “let’s go Rockets” reverberating around an emptying AT&T center–so I leave you with my favorite seven highlights and storylines from the game.

Harden’s unstoppable pick and roll game

Much pre-game analysis focused on how the Spurs would guard the Rockets’ favorite offensive play, the pick and roll. The talk was right: the Spurs have options for how they defend the play. The bad news is that none of them worked. The Rockets went to the pick and roll 53 times last night, creating all kinds of problems for the Spurs defense.

When the Spurs tried hedging and recovering, Harden burned them with the drive.

The Spurs then tried switching, so Harden abused whichever poor soul was switched onto him, like this time when sunk a stepback three with Jonathan Simmons guarding him.

Finally, they tried denying Harden the ball. Welp, no luck there either.

To coin a vintage Bill Worrell term made famous last time these two teams faced off in the playoffs, I thought James Harden had the Spurs defense just “bamboozled”. The play above sums it up: Ginobili overplays Harden to deny him the ball, so Harden cuts back door, receives the ball, and lobs it to Capela for the easy dunk as the defense collapses. The Spurs will undoubtedly come up with a new scheme to defend the Harden pick ‘n roll but Gregg Popovich looks to have his work cut out for him based on last night’s evidence.

The return of Clint Capela

Clint Capela was ineffective in the OKC series, looking out of his depth when matched up with the Thunder bigs. Not tonight. Capela rebounded from a poor round 1 with a peach of a game against the Spurs, dropping in 20 points on 8-10 shooting (all of his points were in the paint or free throws). Capela played his role to a T, being aggressive on the boards and making himself available to finish lobs, fast breaks, and pick and rolls. Capela was an uber-efficient 1.54 points per possession on the night, the most by any player who played significant minutes.

Moreyball at its finest

The Rockets knew their 3-pointers just had to start falling if they were going to do any damage in the Playoffs. This game showed what the Rockets are capable of when they do. The Rockets shot a blistering 44% from the 3-pt line against the Spurs, making 22 from 50 from deep, the second-most ever by a team in the playoffs. Trevor Ariza led the way with 5 3-pointers, while compatriots Ryan Anderson (4), James Harden (3), Eric Gordon (3), Lou Williams (2) and Patrick Beverley (2) also made their presence felt from behind the arc. The Rockets shot chart reflected their near-perfectly executed offensive performance.

Ryan Anderson’s shot shows some life

One of the most worrying parts of the OKC series was the woeful shooting of Ryan Anderson. Ryno was 3-24 against the Thunder and seemed hesitant to shoot much of the time. In one game against the Spurs Anderson has already surpassed his 3-point production in the five games of round 1, shooting 4-10 from three. Anderson seemed to find a comfort zone on the left wing, where he made 3 of his 4 3-pointers.

Harden’s passes set up the Rocket offense

James Harden’s 14 assists were a playoff career high for him. He found his favorite roll man Clint Capela for six of those assists, and his mate Trevor Ariza for another four. Harden assisted on seven of the Rockets’ 22 3-pointers.

Cranking up the pace

In the regular season the Rockets played at the 3rd-highest pace (102.5 possessions) while the Spurs were one of the more pedestrian teams, with just a 27th-ranked pace (96.4 possessions). Last night’s game was well and truly played at the Rockets’ speed as they cranked the pace up to 105.4 possessions.

The Rockets pushed the pace as much as possible, running off makes and misses, and putting the Spurs defense on its heels. They created transition opportunities and got good offensive motion early in the shot clock–one of the issues they faced against OKC. One of the leaders of the transition team was Trevor Ariza who had 7 of the team’s 27 fast break points.

Beverley channels his focus

Last but not least, a word for Patrick Beverley. The Rockets starting guard didn’t fill up the stat sheet last night but his impact was felt in the advanced statistics. Beverley had the team’s lowest defensive rating (with 61.3), the lowest opponent EFG% at 28.6%, and the team’s second highest +/- at +36. He avoided the two near-melees and turned in a measured, mature performance. He’s taking Tony Parker’s mini-resurgence personally and is out to do whatever he can to help the team win.

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Carl Fudge is a former MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference organizer and long time Rockets fan.

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