Despite holding a lead as large as 25 points, the San Antonio Spurs let another close game slip away in Houston, putting them six games below .500.
Tensions flew high as the interstate rivalry between the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets came to fruition once more on Monday evening.
The Spurs came out hot in the first half, forcing a timeout from Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni by going on a 16-0 run after Russell Westbrook’s opening bucket. This came due to some high-energy defense from point guard Dejounte Murray, who just recently regained his starting spot, as well as some instant offense from starting-center LaMarcus Aldridge.
For Murray, high-octane energy on both sides of the floor was key to earning back the trust of head coach Gregg Popovich. By “playing nasty,” a phrase coined by Pop – the backbone of the organization – Murray set the tone for the Spurs early and finished with a 16-point, five-board, three-assist and two steal stat line in the contest.
Dejounte Murray and Harden going at it ? pic.twitter.com/kIwlZutmI2
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 17, 2019
Most notably, Murray got into it with Houston’s star player James Harden, who finished 10-of-29 from the field and 4-of-13 from three-point land. The 23-year-old snatched the ball away from Harden and ran the fastbreak for a layup and celebrated, triggering Harden into a slight shove. As you can see, Murray didn’t back down from the challenge and drew a double-technical.
Having a point guard with the cojones to get physical with Harden is just what the team needs – especially to usher in the next generation of Spurs basketball.
This energy didn’t remain consistent as the Spurs gave up 32 points in the second quarter and were outscored 56-35 in the second half, allowing Houston to rally from the largest deficit for a win in franchise history (25 points).
Aldridge and starting-three DeMar DeRozan, the highest-paid players on the team, finished -10 and -14 respectively. With each number tacked on to the loss column, it becomes clearer that the Spurs won’t be able to win consistently with these predictable players at the helm.
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This made it all the more difficult to watch them log the most minutes on the team along with other vets like Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli, who shot a combined 1-of-9 while Lonnie Walker IV and Jakob Poeltl play only 10 minutes each.
It’s not often that Popovich’s methods are questioned but this is the first time they’ve directly translated to losses and change needs to come. Two interesting frontcourt players – veteran wing DeMarre Carroll and sophomore big man Chimezie Metu – logged DNPs in the contest which has become par for the course.
DeRozan was benched for a Murray/White combo to end the game and was visibly frustrated, but he deserved to be benched for his poor play. If only those minutes were allocated to Walker, Poeltl and others instead, the Spurs may have had a chance to fix their own mess.
Next up, the Spurs return home to host the Brooklyn Nets before Kawhi Leonard and the LA Clippers come to the Alamo City on Friday for the second night of a back-to-back.