AT&T CENTER – 12 + 12 +12 + 12 = 48
It’s common addition to most and for any NBA player, those 12 minutes in four quarters represent one of their games as a whole. For the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday, the Houston Rockets were a reminder of how vital each of those minutes is.
“When you play a good basketball team, you’ve got to come with passion, edge, and aggressiveness for 48 minutes,” said Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich of his team, “and we did that for a half.”
“I think it was a good lesson for our guys, they got embarrassed for a whole half.”
His Spurs would fall behind by 23 points against the Rockets in the first half, before battling back in the second half to take a 5-point lead in the fourth quarter. It wouldn’t result in a win as James Harden (31 points) would play like the All-Star that he is late in the fourth to help the Rockets hold off the Spurs’ comeback 112-106.
“You should play like that for 48 minutes,” said Manu Ginobili (9 points, 11 assists) of playing inspired basketball that the Spurs did not play in the first 24 minutes. “We were very passive in the beginning.”
“They were moving the ball, taking threes, going to the rim – they basically did whatever they wanted.”
In the first half, the Rockets did just that, did whatever they wanted. The Rockets were scoring by putting up 57 points in the first half, while they limited the Spurs’ offense in the second quarter to just 22 points. The Rockets had assisted on 59% of their made baskets while shooting 50% from 3-point range (8-of-16). Houston came in as the worst team in turning the ball over, but against the Spurs’ passive play, Houston had only turned the ball over five times in the first half.
“We didn’t have the right energy. We didn’t have the right intensity defensively,” said Tim Duncan of the first half. “We weren’t up in the passing lanes. We weren’t doing anything.”
Once the Spurs went into the locker room for halftime, they had a break to reset themselves and come out and play like the way they should have played from the get-go.
“In the second half their aggressiveness and attention to detail was very good and they got themselves back into the game,” said Popovich of his teams play in the second half. “I couldn’t be more proud of how they played in the second half.”
“In the second half, we adjusted,” said Ginobili. “We played more physical, we hustled more. More determination and we got back into the game.”
From the start of the third quarter to just before the last five minutes of the fourth quarter (19 minutes), the Spurs had turned the momentum in their favor as they had outscored the Rockets 46-32. In the third quarter, their team defense made its strongest showing as they held the Rockets to 26 points in the quarter. Duncan scored 9 of his 20 points in the third, while Parker scored 7 of his 27 points in that same quarter. Marco Belinelli would have a strong push to in those 19 minutes as he scored 13 of his 18 points during that time frame including the first 10 points of the fourth quarter.
In those 19 second half minutes, the Spurs were playing ‘Spurs’ basketball as they threw 11 assists, were shooting 53% and holding the Rockets to shooting 37% while also forcing the Rockets to turn the ball over 12 times.
“Second half came around and our intensity turned up,” continued Duncan. “We got up on people. We made them change what they were doing, made their shots tougher and gave ourselves a chance.”
A chance is what the Spurs would give themselves, but in the end, Harden was the star in the final five minutes (crunch time) as he helped the Rockets outscore the Spurs 23-14 for the win. Harden, scored 12 of his 16 fourth quarter points in those final five minutes.
For Duncan and the Spurs, the loss was a reminder that basketball is a 48-minute game. If you play like you’re supposed to for 48 minutes, the results are usually in your favor.
“We made small adjustments,” said Duncan about the halftime break, “but it was more effort and focus than anything else. We don’t make huge adjustments from game-to-game. We play the way we play. If we execute, if we defend the right way, if we execute the game plan we come up with – we like the results usually. We didn’t do a good job of it in the first half.”
For Ginobili, Saturday’s loss reminded him just how much not playing for 48 minutes can be a frustration when the final buzzer sounds. “What’s frustrating is we got to that point where we gave them a 23-point lead.”
The Spurs sit at 14-3 in the Western Conference and lost their first home game of the season (7-1). They’ll have Sunday off before resuming play at the AT&T Center Monday against the Atlanta Hawks.
Even though it was only the 17th game of the season, Coach Popovich will take Saturday’s loss as a teachable moment for his team.
“It’s a great lesson for us, a great game to have early in the season.”