The Houston Rockets were impressive in their dominating Game 1 win over the San Antonio Spurs. What are the key takeaways from the performance?
In Game 1 of their 2017 Western Conference semifinals series, the Houston Rockets blitzed the San Antonio Spurs and won comfortably on the road, 126-99.
There are several things to take away from this game, from the Rockets’ offensive explosion to the apparent Spurs discomfort.
With Game 2 on Wednesday, there isn’t a lot of time for San Antonio to digest this loss and make adjustments, while the Rockets are glad the next game is happening very soon as they look to keep up their offensive play and grab a commanding 2-0 lead in the series.
With that being said, let’s take a look at the key takeaways from the dominant Game 1 win for Houston.
1) Keep up fast pace
The Rockets had six days off between ending their first round series and starting this series against the Spurs and boy did it look like that rest helped them. Unlike their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder in which the Rockets lost all five first quarters, they came out with energy and were engaged on both ends of the floor.
The Rockets put up 34 points in the first quarter, and the pace was right where they wanted it. The Spurs played in to Houston’s hands by engaging in the fast-paced, chaotic play early on, which allowed the Rockets to get very comfortable.
Both Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson were hitting their threes, which is always a good sign. James Harden was engaged on both ends of the floor, and he ran the offense with such exquisite precision the Spurs had no answer for their offensive attack.
In order to be successful (and ultimately win the series), the Rockets must keep up the fast pace. The Spurs love to slow things down and control the tempo, but if Houston can turn the series into a fast-paced shootout, it will be very comfortable and will win the series.
The fast-paced, run-and-gun styles the Rockets used created countless good looks from beyond the arc and in transition. To win this series, they need to continue to push the pace and make the Spurs uncomfortable.
2) Continue to expose Spurs’ big men
The Spurs are committed to playing two traditional big men on the floor at all times. Well it looks like that simply won’t cut it against the Rockets, and Game 1 provided endless evidence of why that’s the case.
The Spurs started with David Lee and LaMarcus Aldridge, which didn’t go well. Countless times the Rockets would just run screens to get a San Antonio big man on Harden, which allowed the Beard to go to work. Whether it was to score or just set up teammates for open threes, Harden continuously drove by the big man, putting incredible pressure on the Spurs’ defense.
In that scenario it truly is a pick your poison situation. Either you stay home to prevent open threes, or you help on Harden driving to the rim. Regardless of what the other defenders choose to do, the Rockets will get a good look.
Houston attempted 50 three-pointers in this game (hitting 44 percent of them) and a good chunk of them were wide-open looks. If the Spurs don’t change their lineups or coverage of the pick-and-roll, the Rockets will continue to get quality looks from beyond the arc.
This begs the question: When (if ever) will the Spurs decide to play small ball? Putting Kawhi Leonard at power forward and Aldridge at center provides the Spurs with floor spacing, and wouldn’t sacrifice much on the defensive end.
However, there are two issues with the Spurs going small. The first is the simple fact that Gregg Popovich doesn’t like going small, as he did it very rarely in the regular season. The second is that by going small, there will be added pressure on San Antonio’s wings, a position where they already lack consistent, quality players at.
However, the Spurs will have to go small for various stretches of games in order to limit the Rockets’ offense. If Houston gets this comfortable again in Game 2 and captures both games on the road, it could all but end this series.
With Game 2 on Wednesday, both teams will be ready. The Spurs will want (and need) to shake off the blowout in order to save their chances in the series while the Rockets must be licking their chops to get their hands on the Spurs defense (and big men).
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference