In the first two games of their series against the San Antonio Spurs, the Houston Rockets have shown both sides of their defense. In Monday’s game, the Rockets forced the Spurs into turnovers, out-rebounded the Spurs, especially on the defensiveness glass, and held the Spurs to a meager 36.9% field goal percentage. These advantages flipped in game 2 where the Spurs out-performed the Rockets in each of those statistical categories. What changed? Was it Houston’s defense faltering after a phenomenal game 1, the Spurs’ offense just performing better after a limited game 1 performance, or some combination of the two?
While taking shots late in the shot clock became an issue early in the Spurs’ first round series against the Memphis Grizzlies, the issue in game 1 against the Rockets was the opposite. Each team averaged over 105 possessions in game one, after the Spurs averaged 88.16 possessions per game in the first round and 96.41 possessions per game in the regular season. In game 1, the Spurs took 40.5% of their shots with more than 15 seconds remaining. That’s up almost 10% from the regular season, where the Spurs took only 30.7% of their shots before the shot clock hit 15. The Spurs weren’t very accurate in game 1 after running out more of the clock though, making only 16 of their 50 field goal attempts with 15 seconds or less on the shot clock.
While the Spurs were missing all sorts of shots in game 1, contested and uncontested alike, the Rockets were doing a good job of contesting the Spurs’ field goal attempts. Per NBA.com’s stat tracking page, a higher percentage of Spurs’ shots were attempted with a defender within two feet than on average during the regular season.
Some of the offensive issues the Spurs faced in game 1 were simply a result of missing shots, though. In the regular season, the Spurs connected on 44.8% of their field goal attempts when there was no defender within 6 feet. The Spurs hit 27.3% of their shots with the same conditions on Monday. While the Rockets certainly did a good job of contesting shots, a team making only 27% of shots that are completely uncontested is unusual.
In game 2, however, the Spurs dictated the pace. On Wednesday night, each team averaged just over 90 possessions, much fewer than in Monday night’s game. The Spurs committed turnovers on only 9% of their possessions, after committing turnovers on 14.4% of their possessions in game 1. They also attacked the Rockets on the boards. After the Spurs grabbed 20.8% of possible offensive rebounds in game 1, they nearly doubled that mark, grabbing 41.0% of possible offensive rebounds in game 2. The Rockets’ defense fuels their offense through grabbing rebounds on the defensive end then quickly pushing the pace the other way. By putting a higher emphasis on offensive rebounding, the Spurs found a way to defend the Rockets on the offensive end of the court.
The Spurs also simply made more shots than they did in game 1. The Spurs made 53.4% of their field goals in game 2, up over 15% from their lackluster 36.9% in game 1. They performed better in practically every statistical category, and it’s easy to see why. When the Spurs are not losing many possessions to turnovers, are making a much higher percentage of their shots, and are getting second chances on a decent percentage of their misses through offensive rebounding, they aren’t just giving themselves more chances to score, they’re keeping the ball out of James Harden’s hands.
The Rockets’ defense was able to disrupt the Spurs’ offense in game 1 and force the Spurs to play outside of their comfort zone. In game 2, however, the Rockets had a more challenging time preventing the Spurs from running whatever they wanted to on offense. With Tony Parker out for the remainder of the playoffs, the Spurs will need more offensive play-makers to contribute besides Kawhi Leonard for them to have any chance of continuing their success on the offensive end from game 2.
All stats obtained from nba.com/stats.