Game rewind: Why the defensive switch on Martin changed the game

After Kevin Martin blistered the Spurs for 21 points in the first half on an assortment of jumpers, Gregg Popovich had seen enough.

The Spurs coach changed his defensive strategy with the idea of forcing Martin to drive more after the break.

A rotation of fresh defenders was employed, with Danny Green and Gary Neal getting most of the work.

“A guy like that, once he gets going, you have to throw different things at him,” Green said. “We had multiple guys guarding him. All you can do is to try to deny him catching it. And when he catches it, just be annoying so he doesn’t get rhythm and make shots. Luckily, he cooled down when we needed him to.”

Martin started the game 7 for 10 from the field with five 3-pointers in the first half, but went only 3 for 11 from the field and 1 for 4 beyond the arc in the second half. He was limited to three points in the fourth quarter and missed his final three shots as the Spurs charged back for a 99-91 halftime victory.

“If he’s hot, you have to try to get him the ball,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said.

The Rockets weren’t nearly as successful in that plan in the second half.  And as a result, the Spurs escaped with their biggest comeback victory of the season.

Game analysis: After falling behind by as much as 19 points in the first half and 18 in the third quarter, it looked like a game to punt considering the Spurs were playing on the front end of a back-to-back. Despite that large deficit,  Tim Duncan had a vintage third quarter that pulled the Spurs back into the game and the bench did the rest in the fourth quarter to lead the victory.  

Where the game was won: Neal’s floater gave the Spurs the lead for good at 93-91 with 2:00 remaining. And after Martin had missed a 25-footer and Courtney Lee was called for an offensive foul, Matt Bonner drilled a 3-pointer with 1:04 left to ice the victory.

The turnaround: The Spurs hit Houston with a run of 11 straight points late in the third quarter to pull within 66-63 on James Anderson’s 3-pointer with 1:21 left. Duncan accounted for six points in the run and later added a rim-rattling dunk later in the quarter as the Spurs charged back within 71-67 at the end of the quarter after trailing by 17 points early after halftime.

Player of the game I: Duncan has had a couple of big scoring games this season. But his 25-point effort against the Rockets was more like the old days when he was an inside threat.  Instead of settling for outside jumpers and bank shots, he tormented Jordan Hill after Samuel Dalembert picked up his fourth foul in the third quarter. Duncan also  went to the foul line 10 times in his most active game at the line since the 2010 playoffs against Houston.

Player of the game II: Tony Parker provided 24 points and four assists, including six points in the fourth quarter to help lead the Spurs’ comeback.

Player of the game III: The Spurs didn’t have an answer for  Martin in the first half as he torched them for 21 points. A defensive change limited his touches and open looks in the second half, but he was Houston’s biggest weapon on a night where he accounted for 29 points, a season-best nine rebounds and four assists.

Most unsung: His teammates were joking about his botched breakaway layup, but Bonner provided eight points and a team-high 10 rebounds in a surprisingly bruising game than he normallay accustomed to providing.

Did you notice I: Sitting in the courtside seats near the Spurs bench was North Carolina coach Roy Williams, who tries to visit each of his former players in the NBA when he can. He came to San Antonio to watch Green play Wednesday night. After a slow start where he missed his first five shots, Green rebounded to hit all three of his shots in the fourth quarter as he shared team scoring honors with seven points.

Did you notice II: After starting, Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard didn’t play in the second half.

Stat of the game:  The Spurs charged back from a 19-point deficit early in the second quarter to claim the comeback victory. Their largest previous comeback victory came when they came from 12 down in a 101-95 overtime victory over Houston on Jan. 11.

Stat of the game II: Pounding the ball inside at will, the Spurs had a 42-16 edge in points in the paint. That plus-26 margin was their highest in a game this season,  topping their previous high of plus-22 in their victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Dec. 28.

Stat of the game III: Duncan scored 16 points in the third quarter, topping the Spurs’ previous season best of 14 points set by Parker at Orlando on Jan 18 (fourth quarter) and Manu Ginobili against Utah on Dec. 31  (second). It was the most points in a quarter by a Spurs player since George Hill went for 16 points agianst Phoenix last April 3 (first quarter).  

Stat of the game IV: The Spurs extended their home record this season to 11-1. They are tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the most home victories in the Western Conference and trail only Philadelphia’s 12 home triumphs.

Stat of the game V: After  combining to hit only 3 of 15 from the field and account for 10 points through three quarters,  Neal and Green hit  6 of 7 shots and combined for 14 points in the fourth quarter.  

Weird stat of the game: After averaging 15 foul shots in their last four games and notching only two games of more than 20 foul shots in their last nine games, the Spurs went to the line 31 times to match their season best. Their previous high was set in their victory over Utah on Dec. 31. 

Weird stat of the game II: The Spurs forced 21 Houston turnovers, their most since forcing 25 in their season-opening victory over Memphis on Dec. 26. It came within one of the Rockets’ season high of 22 turnovers, set Jan. 10 at Charlotte. 

Weird stat of the game III: The Spurs’ point total improved in all four quarters for the first time in a game this season. They scored 16 points in the first quarter, 23 points in the second quarter, 28 points in the third quarter and 32 points in the fourth quarter.

Not a good sign: The Spurs started slowly with only 16 points, which was their second-lowest point total in a home first quarter this season. The low is 14 against Memphis on Dec. 26.

Best plus/minus scores: Neal was plus-26, Bonner was plus-20 and Green was plus-14.

Worst plus/minus scores: Richard Jefferson and Leonard were minus-15 and Blair was minus-14.

Quote of the game: ”Tim Duncan went to the Fountain of Youth or something yesterday because today he looked phenomenal. We fed off Tim. He played great and everybody else kind of got their energy from Tim,” Neal, describing Duncan’s vintage second-half performance.

How the schedule stacks up: The Spurs will face the back end of a home back-to-back when New Orleans Thursday night before concluding the homestand Saturday night against Oklahoma City and starting the Rodeo Road Trip Monday night in Memphis. The Rockets will host Phoenix on Friday before traveling to Minnesota for a Saturday game and playing Monday in Denver. 

Injuries: Ginobili missed his 18th game (Spurs record 11-7) after undergoing surgery for a fractured fifth left metacarpal.  T.J. Ford missed his 13th game (Spurs record 8-5) with a torn left hamstring. Parker was dazed in the fourth quarter after taking a shot to his nose, but did not miss any playing time. Houston reported no injuries.

Leave a Reply