rockets review: game 5 vs. spurs

In a thrilling game that went into overtime, the Rockets once again came out on the wrong side of the victory in an intense divisional match-up in San Antonio. Unfortunately, this loss doesn’t hurt any less even if I was expecting it. We were very close to finally getting off the zero-win mark. Instead, we went down by three points and remain the only winless team in the NBA this season.

I missed most of the first quarter while I was busy playing some real basketball myself. By the time I first flipped on the television, the scores were tied up at 21 apiece. Both teams were shooting extremely hot. I think the Rockets went into the second quarter shooting 68 percent compared to the Spurs’ 58 percent. The Rockets ended up cooling down a bit in the second quarter while the Spurs continued shooting hot and took a 57-52 lead into half-time. Brooks also ended up injuring his ankle in the last play before the buzzer and did not return to the game.

In the third quarter, the Spurs began to pull away, expanding their lead into double digits. The Rockets started making the same mistakes from previous games again. Missed defensive assignments, inability to get defensive rebounds, and the like. I began resigning myself to another expected 10-15 point loss and coming in here and writing the same things I have in all the other recaps.

Then, something changed. Kevin Martin twisted his ankle and left the game. This meant Courtney Lee got big minutes and it was essentially our second unit out there. We managed to stay within fighting distance to end the third, down 84-91 going into the final period. Ish Smith was now running the show, with both Brooks and Lowry not available. Also on court were Courtney Lee and Chase Budinger. Don’t remember if the Chuckwagon was in yet, but he played a good part in the 4th.

We ended the 3rd quarter with a 4-0 run and we began the 4th with a 10-0 one. Ish Smith was all over the place, knocking down a three, setting up assists and generally being a beast. Courtney Lee hit three pointer from the corner to give us our first lead in a while. Unfortunately, Chase missed a wide open opportunity to extend the lead, but this was a great come back from our team, which had seemed down and out.

Skip forward to the end of the fourth. The Rockets were up by 2 with less than a minute left. Courtney Lee went to the line with a chance to ice the game but ended up choking on both his free throws. At the other end of the court Manu Ginobili hit an absolutely clutch shot. The Rockets had a few seconds to win the game but ended up with an Ish floater hitting the back of the rim. The Spurs grabbed the board with a little more than a second left to attempt a game winner. In the ensuing play, Ginobili managed to get open and barely missed a wild fadeaway. We were going into OT.

In OT, Ish Smith was once again very active and set up Scola for several great looks from the elbow. Every time the Rockets looked to pull away, however, the Spurs managed to strike back. The game was lost, in my opinion, when Tony Parker grabbed a steal from an unaware Chuck Hayes and took it to the hoop at the other end. Tim Duncan had a chance to ice the game with about 15 seconds remaining but missed a free throw. The Rockets took a timeout and three desperation three pointers later, the buzzer sounded and the Rockets moved to 0-5.

Positives

Our bench played awesome today. Special mentions go to Ishmael Smith, Courtney Lee and Chuck “The Wagon” Hayes. Ish played 35 minutes and had 7 assists to go with 4 boards and 11 points. Courtney Lee played 30 minutes today and had 11 points, including the clutch three pointer I mentioned earlier. The Chuckwagon was a beast inside, grabbing 13 rebounds, including 4 off the offensive glass. Unfortunately, Chuck Hayes was also involved in the swing play of the game.

Martin and Brooks were shooting very well in their limited minutes. I’ll list them as positive for now, but I think the team was playing in a much better rhythm when their replacements were out there. If it wasn’t for the start these guys gave us, we may have been out of the running a lot earlier.

Shane Battier was very active today on offense. He finally hit his open threes (2-3) and had some good moves in the post late in the game.

Negatives

The obvious negatives would be losing Brooks and Martin to injury. While our second unit did gel together very well, I think we will need Brooks’ and Martin’s shooting to keep us in the game early. I don’t know how consistent Courtney Lee can be and while Ish Smith is a great playmaker, he can’t shoot at all and we may have lost the game to the Spurs today because they just gave him the space to throw up his array of shots and floaters.

Chase Budinger had another disappointing game, getting no points in his 15 minutes despite taking a bunch of open shots. Again, if he had been knocking even a small percentage of them down, this result could have been very different. In particular, a wide open shot from the corner at the end of our 10-0 run could have ruffled up the Spurs coaching staff and bench.

Summary

All in all, this is another rough loss for the Rockets, but one that gives me hope. Our second unit played well once they were given minutes. We played good defense in the fourth quarter–definitely better defense then we’ve played at any other time this year. We just came up against a team that had too many weapons on offense. Ginobili and Parker are clutch-shot veterans, Timmy D is having a second coming and RJ has finally slotted himself into this offense. We needed just one of these four guys to be off today to pull out the win, despite playing almost 20 minutes without our starting backcourt. That is a good thing.

That said, a loss is still a loss and we are now down 0-5, the same record that we started out with about a decade ago. We didn’t make the playoffs that year. Let’s hope that history doesn’t repeat itself in that fashion. We saved Yao for tomorrow so we should have a post presence going up against the 1-5 Minnesota Timberwolves. The Wolves have been blown out in their last 4 losses, losing them by an average of 26 points.

I was preparing myself for an 0-5 start after dropping the game to the Hornets (who, by the way, recorded the mighty Miami Heat, which gives me more hope about this Rockets team). However, we absolutely cannot lose to the Wolves tomorrow–our first Eastern Conference opponent and a struggling team. And we’ll be playing at home. If we don’t get our first victory tomorrow, then I’ll finally accept that we are a lot worse than I thought we were.

Until then, I still have hope!

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