The Spurs opened Game 4 giving up a flurry of open three-point looks and transition baskets – two big no-nos in any defensive game plan, but especially against an unforgiving Houston offense that was due for a bounce-back performance.
“The tale was really told in that first quarter,” Gregg Popovich said after the game, noting the lack of an edge the Spurs played with.
By the end of the first, his team trailed 34-22. And though they would cut into that deficit in the second quarter, there was no semblance of offensive or defensive cohesion that seemed to carry through. The Spurs tried to control the tempo through a plodding, half-court style, but the Rockets showed great focus on defense and a commitment to pushing the pace whenever possible.
Furthermore, they seemed to make good on their coach Mike D’Antoni’s singular tenet that 3 is greater than 2.
Houston would hit 19 of its 43 three-point attempts, the most they’ve taken since their last blowout win in Game 1.
James Harden (28 points, 12 assists and five rebounds) was, unsurprisingly, the catalyst for most of this once again – but he had help. Eric Gordon, Lou Williams, Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza were all aggressive, taking advantage of a defense that prioritized containing Harden. The foursome combined for 54 points and helped keep the Spurs on the ropes for most of the night.
The Spurs’ own superstar, Kawhi Leonard, didn’t exactly play poorly, but he seemed to spend more time getting stonewalled by double teams than doing damage off the dribble. He finished with a quiet 16 points, his lowest point total of the playoffs.
The final score of 125-104 isn’t pretty, but it could’ve been worse. Some unlikely contributions from Jonathon Simmons (17 points) and Dejounte Murray (8 points) salvaged a number of listless offensive possessions but temporarily masked the issues San Antonio had with creating opportunities.
LaMarcus Aldridge, a big part of the Spurs’ Game 3 win, was largely ineffective outside of a 10-point third quarter. Even with the Rockets short-handed in the front court (starter Clint Capela battled foul trouble and backup center Nene exited with a groin injury), he and Pau Gasol failed to take advantage in the paint, while Houston used its smaller lineups to pull both away from the basket as often as possible.
This series continues to be difficult to predict game to game. As committed as each coach is to playing his own particular style, both have been excellent at making minor adjustments to give themselves an edge.
With the teams tied at two games each, this now becomes an uncomfortably-tight, best-of-three affair. The all-important Game 5 will be back in San Antonio on Tuesday at 7pm.