Spurs face quick turnaround before conference finals

Erica Murray
May 14, 2017

At the final National Basketball Association playoff game between the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs Thursday night at Houston's Toyota Center, two Rockets fans were put on the Kiss Cam, but one did not emerge with his dignity intact. And while San Antonio deserves credit for largely staying faithful to its more traditional 2-big lineups involving LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol in this series, the team's ability to go small - even without Parker or Leonard available - essentially delivered the knockout blow in Game 6.

Pop and his Spurs have the ultimate test in the Western Conference Finals against the two-time defending conference champion Golden State Warriors.

Golden State barely broke a sweat in sweeping opponents through the first two rounds, while San Antonio have had a more challenging road, needing six games to overcome both Memphis and Houston. Without his physical presence, Aldridge went to work, scoring 10 points in the first quarter as the Spurs jumped to a 31-24 lead.

Defeat in this series now means Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni has failed to win against Greg Popovich and the Spurs in five postseason series. He made that 3-pointer to whittle the lead a bit, but it didn't get the Rockets going. He didn't sink a shot until midway through the second quarter.

"They're coached by one of the best to ever do it-we know that we have a tremendous challenge ahead of us", Warriors assistant coach Jarron Collins said on my podcast on Friday.

Your eyes did not deceive you-James Harden played like a totally different player last night, and the advanced statistics prove it. That was not James Harden that showed up for the Houston Rockets tonight. I feel like I was making some passes, and we just didn't knock down shots or whatever the case may be.

Houston, which relied on its 3-point shooting to get this far, couldn't make shots from long-range going 13 of 40. He added three rebounds and seven assists, but he also had six turnovers. D'Antoni, who helped Houston to a 14-game improvement in his first season, believes the Rockets might have been worn down by dealing with a team that lacks a clear weakness to exploit. Dekker had six points.

Trevor Ariza (20) and Clint Capela (15) were the only Rockets to score in double figures.

James Harden has been discussed as a potential regular-season MVP candidate. That's why the projections at FiveThirtyEight give it an 87 percent chance of advancing to the NBA Finals for a third straight season and the betting markets never let the Warriors chances of winning the NBA title dip below 56 percent at any point during the regular season or playoffs. Leonard scored 35 points in that blowout win over the Warriors, but scored just 19 in a late-season loss at home.

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