Pretty much everything went right for the Houston Rockets against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series. Houston drained 22 three-pointers, held the Spurs to just nine of their own and won by a score of 126-99 on the road.
Houston flew up and down the court, getting almost every shot in the first half of the shot clock and forcing their action away from San Antonio’s two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Kawhi Leonard. It didn’t help that the Spurs were ice-cold from pretty much every spot on the floor, which helped jump-start Houston’s transition attack.
The Rockets looked like a more energetic team and a team with a clear gameplan, unlike San Antonio. Was the game an anomaly or is this is a strong sign of things to come? There are reasons to have both of those opinions heading into today’s Game 2 in San Antonio (9:30 p.m. ET Wednesday on TNT).
Now this preview takes a look at the factors that will have a significant impact on tonight’s result, then we will make our predictions and betting picks in light of the odds from the recommended U.S. sportsbooks.
Will the Pace Slow Down At All?
San Antonio’s average possessions per 48 minutes in the Grizzlies series was 88.2. Against Houston on Monday, it was 105.4. That’s an increase of more than 17 possessions.
The Spurs are definitely not comfortable playing that fast for the rest of the series. Their roster is full of veterans who would prefer not to be running to the other end of the floor every 10 seconds or so.
The first thing San Antonio can do to slow down the game is make more shots. Houston was pushing the ball up the floor on every miss (and there were a lot for the Spurs), but made shots slowed down the game a bit.
San Antonio also must bring more players back in transition defense, because the Rockets will burn you with an open three-pointer in 4-on-3 or 5-on-4 situations.
Can the Spurs Make James Harden More of a Scorer?
Harden had more assists (14) than field-goal attempts (13) in just 31 minutes in Game 1. That has now happened nine times throughout the season, and six of those games ended in Rockets wins by more than 22 points.
Houston usually fares better when Harden dominates as a playmaker. When he does a great job keeping all of his outside shooters and rim runners involved, the Rockets offense flourishes. That also opens up the court for him to get his own points on driving layups.
San Antonio was too aggressive trying to go over the screens Harden got and helping when he was isolated. In those situations, The Beard just found open shooters or cutting post players for easy buckets. With all of his teammates in rhythm, Harden could count on them to contribute positively. Almost every Houston role player had at least a solid game.
The Spurs need to make Harden a one-man show by helping less on his drives and forcing him to establish his jump shot with a less aggressive coverage on screens. That way, he gets tired and his teammates can’t get into a groove.
Will Gregg Popovich Find the Right Rotation Adjustments?
Popovich, the Spurs’ head coach, might be the best basketball coach ever. However, he’s not without faults, and his rotations were somewhat problematic in Game 1.
David Lee, Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge are all somewhat slow defenders who are better suited to a slow-paced affair than a run-and-gun contest. However, they played a combined 76 minutes and were thoroughly victimized on defense. None of them took advantage of their size inside.
Popovich needs to think about using Dewayne Dedmon (seven minutes) and Davis Bertans (11 minutes) more, since both are more athletic and will fare better defending switches onto smaller players. Maybe fewer minutes for traditional big men in general would be good, since Houston’s small-ball approach seemed to destroy San Antonio’s bigger lineups.
Our Preview’s Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs Game 2 Betting Picks & Predictions
If you’re a Spurs supporter, the good news is that Game 2 almost for sure will not go worse than Game 1. The bad news is that Houston’s fast-paced attack makes the squad just a bad matchup for the Spurs’ old, slow players.
San Antonio will play with more focus, energy and ball movement than it did in Game 1, and Houston probably won’t be as sharp in Game 2. The most likely outcome, in my opinion, is a very close game that the Spurs end up gutting out at home out of desperation.
- The betting line is the same as Game 1, with Spurs favored by 5.5 points. That means the oddsmakers are pretty confident that contest was an anomaly. Pick Houston +5.5pts @ -110 odds with either MyBookie or 5Dimes. Game 1 was somewhat telling about the way these two teams matchups.
- I’m going to recommend betting the under on the 215 total points for the game, since Game 1 was a super fast pace even for the Rockets. Houston won’t have had several days rest before Game 2, and San Antonio will do a better job controlling the tempo, as well. So go below 215pts @ -110 with any of Bovada, 5Dimes, MyBookie or BetOnline.
Jared is a lifelong sports fan and writer whose specialist subject is NBA. A 2015 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Jared has been a sought-after freelance sports writer. In addition to his valuable USA Betting contributions, he has also written for other top media outlets.