With a game against the best shooting guard in the NBA, James Harden, according to NBA GMs, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich didn’t dress his best defender, Kawhi Leonard, and Manu Ginobili was also sidelined for this game.
While Harden struggled early, shooting 20 percent from the field in the first half, he got going in the second half, leading the Rockets to a 109-92 drubbing of the Spurs.
The Spurs got to see Harden and new addition Dwight Howard work together early on as a Harden pass led to a Howard dunk for the first two points of the game.
Although the Spurs shot a paltry 29 percent from the field in the first quarter, seven Rockets turnovers, four of which were travel calls on Dwight Howard, kept the Spurs in it early.
Rockets reserve Omri Casspi got hot in the second quarter, scoring eight points in the quarter, while Danny Green did his part to get the Spurs within two points entering halftime.
Rockets coach Kevin McHale kept Harden and Howard in for a majority of the third quarter allowing the Rockets to build up a 12-point third quarter scoring advantage. While the Spurs went on a short 8-0 rally midway through the third to get within 14, a Casspi three ended the run.
The Spurs ran with an interesting three guard lineup in the fourth quarter with Cory Joseph, Patty Mills and Nando De Colo all in at the same time, but it was Aron Baynes who had the biggest impact with eight fourth quarter points.
While this was just the second game in which the Rockets started both Howard and Omer Asik, the frontcourt pairing seemed to work well for the Rockets. The Spurs only managed 18 points in the paint in the first three quarters and the Spurs’ counter of Duncan and Tiago Splitter only managed to make two of their 11 field goal attempts against Howard and Asik in the first quarter.
Baynes led the Spurs with 16 points, five rebounds and two blocked shots. Green was the lone Spurs starter in double figures with 12 points, and Marco Belinelli added 12 points off the bench.
James Harden led the Rockets with 22 points and 11 assists. Casspi and Chandler Parsons had 16 points apiece, and Howard finished with 15 points, 14 rebounds and two blocked shots.
The Spurs closed out the preseason with a 3-4 record. They’ll tip off the 2013-14 regular season next Wednesday against the Memphis Grizzlies. Popovich now has nearly a week to finalize his rotation, including the backup point guard battle between Joseph and Mills. While Joseph seemed to have the edge early on, Mills’ performance in the last two games could end up complicating matters.