Somewhat surprisingly, the oft-prickly Gregg Popovich was in a joking mood after his San Antonio Spurs suffered the worst series-opening loss of his tenure.
Maybe it was Popovich taking solace in the idea that the rest of the series can’t go much worse for San Antonio than it did in the 126-99 blowout on Monday.
Or perhaps it was the effect of a man being resigned to the notion that if the opposition shoots as well as Houston did in the opener, there’s almost nothing you can do.
Considering Popovich, his demeanour could have been unrelated to the game altogether. Yet for as grim of a loss as the Spurs endured, the adjustments for San Antonio are clear heading into Game 2 tonight.
The Rockets’ 3-point shooting isn’t a fluke, but even for the most triple-happy team in the league, their Game 1 performance was an aberration. Houston connected on 22-of-50 3-pointers, tying their postseason franchise record and recording the second-most by any team in a playoff game.
While the Spurs’ defence appeared to be their most significant issue on paper, it was the other end of the court that set up Houston’s attack.
San Antonio’s offence attempted to match the Rockets’ up-tempo pace and beat them in a shootout, going against their nature. The Spurs are comfortable featuring a deliberate attack, as evidenced by their pace (possessions per game) of 88.16 in the first round against Memphis and 96.41 in the regular season, which was fourth-lowest in the league. As a result, San Antonio liberally fired away shots that led to Houston getting out in transition and scoring 27 fast break points.
“We disobeyed a lot of basic basketball rules that they could take advantage of,” Popovich said. “If we’re going to shoot quickly and shoot poorly, it’s going to be a fast-break deal all night long, and they were better at that than we are. So we’ve got to play a lot smarter than what we saw tonight.”
What was also evident in Game 1 is the Spurs’ need for LaMarcus Aldridge to play a larger factor.
The forward finished the opener an astronomical minus-36 in just 25 minutes, providing little to nothing on both ends of the floor.
When Aldridge was the primary defender, Houston players scored 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting from the field, including 5-of-10 from beyond the arc. Particularly when he was matched up against Ryan Anderson, Aldridge was slow on rotations when the ball found the Rockets’ sharpshooter on the
perimeter, yielding open 3s.
Aldridge’s defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) was 122.3, and yet his offence was somehow worse.
He contributed 4 points on 2-of-7 shooting and had a team-worst offensive rating of just 62.3 as he failed to take advantage of his size mismatch or make plays out of double-teams.
“I definitely have to help out Kawhi,” Aldridge said. “He did his part tonight. I have to take my time down there and make them pay.
“Once we started missing easy shots, I think after that, we all just tried to start searching and started playing too fast. We just kind of got frantic.”
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