Originally written on Project Spurs  |  Last updated 12/30/11

LAS VEGAS - OCTOBER 25: (L-R) Sacramento Kings players Kevin Martin, Ron Artest and Francisco Garcia, arrive at a housewarming party for Kings co-owner Gavin Maloof October 25, 2007 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

“It doesn’t matter whose playing well, whose not playing well. It’s always a tough game in the eighties,” said San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan after the Spurs defeated the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night.

Duncan was almost fully right on Thursday except for that last part about the game being in the eighties.

The Spurs came in playing well as they were 2-0 while the Houston Rockets started on the wrong foot at 0-1 and it was a tough game Thursday, for the Spurs only.

In their first road/back-to-back game of the season, the Spurs (2-1) were blasted by the Rockets (1-1) in Houston Thursday night 105-85 behind a big second quarter from Rockets guard Kevin Martin who finished the game with 25-points while shooting 50% from three point range.

The Rockets came out and looked like a team that hadn’t played in two days as they jumped out to an early 11-point lead behind 10 points from Luis Scola and seven points from Martin. The Spurs on the other hand, couldn’t hit a shot as they went 0-for-8 from three-point range and only made eight of their 25 shots in the first quarter. The second unit of Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, and James Anderson alongside Tony Parker helped the team make an 8-0 run late as the Spurs ended the first quarter down 23-18.

The second quarter started off well as Splitter led the Spurs’ second unit back into the game only trailing by one early on. Even Manu Ginobili made a spectacular play as he made a one-on-two fast break through two Rockets players by putting the ball behind his back and finishing on the left side of the rim. Scola was taken out and Martin was reinserted for the Rockets and he brought a scoring tidal wave with him. As soon as Martin came in he led the Rockets to an 8-0 run that would eventually build into a Rockets 18-point lead going into halftime, 53-35. In the second quarter alone, Martin scored 13 points.

The Spurs’ run-and-gun offense was absent in the first half as the Spurs didn’t score over 20 points in both the first and second quarter. The defense that led the Spurs to a 2-0 record was absent as well in the second quarter as the Rockets scored over 30 points in the quarter. The shooting was suffering as the Spurs only connected on 14-of-46 shots and went 1-of-10 from distance in the first half.

Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich used an interesting strategy to start the third quarter as he started Splitter and Leonard for Tim Duncan and Richard Jefferson. At the beginning, the move looked like it would pay off as the Spurs went on an early 8-0 run fueled by DeJuan Blair. The move was squandered as the Rockets looked like they were hitting anything they put up. With the clock winding down, Kyle Lowry hoisted a 26-foot three pointer over Parker and the ball swished through the net. Duncan never played in the third quarter while Splitter played the entire quarter as the Spurs went into the final period trailing 78 to 59.

The fourth quarter was a time for coach Popovich to see what his young guys could do as only starters Jefferson and Blair played in the fourth quarter. Rookie Cory Joseph, Anderson, and Danny Green played the bulk of the minutes in the final period. Still, the second unit couldn’t do much as the Rockets’ lead consistently stayed over 20 points. When the buzzer rang, the Spurs walked off the floor of the Toyota Center with a 20-point loss.

The Spurs will have one day of rest and return home as the Utah Jazz make their first trip to San Antonio this season where the Spurs will look to rebound after Thursday's loss.

Analyzing the Loss

  • It’s tough to tell if the Spurs were really that bad or if it was just a case of poor shooting as the team shot 35-of-93 (38%) from the floor. A big part of the Spurs’ offense is the three point shot, those were M.I.A. as the team only made two of their 17 three pointers.
  • The revamped defense struggled tonight as the Rockets shot 51% in the game and even outscored the Spurs in every quarter. The Rockets were also efficient at running their plays as they connected on 21-assists to the Spurs’ 12.
  • Blair had another good game as he led the team with 22 points and 12 rebounds in 29 minutes. Parker had 12 points but only two assists while Tiago Splitter had his own double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds along with one block and 50% shooting in 24 minutes.
  • After averaging 24 points in the first two games, Ginobili only scored eight points on 50% shooting with a limited 20-minutes of action.
  • Though it’s a loss, one positive in the game was that Duncan only played 15 minutes in the game and you can add to the fact that no starter played more than 30 minutes on consecutive nights during this compressed season.
  • I wrote this in my game preview,

The Spurs will win the game if the backcourt of Ginobili, Parker, Jefferson, and Anderson continue to produce, as the Rockets don’t really have a strong unit on the perimeter that can stop them.

  • The Rockets’ perimeter defense was much better than I gave them credit for as you also add in the players may have been affected by the back-to-back as Ginobili (8 points), Parker (12 points), Jefferson (5 points), and Anderson (3 points) were all held below their season averages while Martin (25 points), Lowry (16 points), and Lee (9 points) all produced well against the Spurs.
  • Luis Scola was once again a thorn in the Spurs’ frontcourts back as he scored 18 points and grabbed five rebounds while shooting 9-of-12 from the field.
  • The area where the Spurs will need to work on in the film room is in defending the pick-and-pop rotation with their big men and working on communication when defending perimeter players like Martin who use screens to get open looks from the outside.

Rookie watch

  • Rookie Kawhi Leonard is gaining coach Popovich’s confidence game-by-game as Popovich put Leonard in to start the second half. Leonard finished the game with eight points (3-of-7), four rebounds, one steal, and zero turnovers in 25-minutes of play.
  • With the large deficit, rookie Cory Joseph also got 14 minutes in the game as he scored two points, had two assists, and even had one block.
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