Game rewind: Why the Spurs’ road defense has to improve

Even with a breakout game from Tiago Splitter, the Spurs couldn’t overcome their defensive woes in another road defeat Saturday night in Houston.

It was more of the same road problems that have dogged the team all season when the Rockets singed them for 57.7 percent field-goal shooting in a 105-102 victory.

The Rockets were the sixth road teams in seven games that has shot better than 50 percent against the Spurs.  San Antonio has lost all of those games.

And even including a frigid 33.3 effort by Orlando earlier this week in a game where the Magic were coming off their third game in three nights, Spurs road opponents have shot a collective 50.8 percent from the field. 

At the ATT Center, opponents have shot a more respectable 42.9 percent as the Spurs have gone 9-1. Only one opponent has shot better than 50 percent against them at their home facility.

Until that road defense improves, the Spurs are doomed to a lot of similar performances as the one that beat them at the Toyota Center Saturday night.

No matter how good their offense may be, the inability to make critical defensive stops down the stretch remains their biggest weakness.

It cost them the victory Saturday night.

Here’s a look at the specifics of San Antonio’s third loss in its last four games.  

Game analysis: The Spurs fell behind early before catching up and going ahead on strong performances by Splitter and Tony Parker. But they again didn’t have the offensive firepower to keep up with Houston down the stretch as the game got away in the final minutes.

Where the game was won: A 7-0 run punctuated by five straight points by Gary Neal appeared to have given San Antonio a boost with an 84-79 lead with 9:15 left. But Houston answered with a run of eight straight points capped by a 17-foot jumper by Samuel Dalembert and never trailed during the rest of the game.  

Almosts don’t count: The Spurs made Houston sweat after Richard Jefferson’s 3-pointer had pulled them within 103-102 with 10.1 seconds left.  But Kevin Martin sank two foul shots and Neal misfired on a potential game-tying 3-pointer with 4.8 seconds remaining to allow Houston to escape with the victory.  

Player of the game I: Martin was the most consistent weapon for Houston throughout the game with 25 points and three assists.

Player of the game II: Houston point guard Kyle Lowry was the Rockets’ go-to player down the stretch, scoring 10 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter. Lowry also added five rebounds and eight assists as he expertly ran Houston’s offense.

Player of the game III: Splitter took advantage of Tim Duncan’s absence to produce the best game of his NBA career. He scored a career-high 25 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and dished off four assists. A variety of Houston defenders unsuccessfully tried to combat him as he missed only two of his 13 field-goal attempts.  

Most unsung: Houston guard Goran Dragic scored 14 points, but none was bigger than a circus scoop shot that bailed the Rockets out of a near 24-second violation with 54.6 seconds left. Earlier in the possession, the Rockets nearly lost the ball in the backcourt, but Dragic maintained the possession before just beating the shot clock with a one-hander to give them a four-point lead.

Did you notice: Other than Splitter inside, the Spurs had a lot of trouble with Dalembert. San Antonio was rattled early when Dalembert produced three blocks and a steal in the first 7:17 of the game despite hobbling with a sprained ankle.

Did you notice II: Even though he struggled offensively in a miserable 2-for-11 shooting night, Jefferson was an active defender who came up with several big plays to help spark the run that gave  the Spurs the lead in the fourth quarter. Most impressively, he was making them at the power forward position.

Stat of the game: Houston shot 55.7 percent from the field and 58.8 percent from the field in the fourth quarter to bring home the comeback victory and claim their sixth straight victory.  It’s their longest winning streak since late in the 2008-09 season.

Stat of the game II: The Spurs’ 3-point shooting improved for the third consecutive game, but it was still at only 31.8 percent. In their last five games the Spurs have shot 26.9 percent from 3-point territory and are 2-3.

Stat of the game III:  Parker produced 13 assists — the first time this season a Spur has notched a double-figure assist total this season.

Weird stat of the game: Despite not having leading rebounder Duncan in the lineup as he rested, the Spurs had a 43-32 rebounding edge and piled up a season-best 60 points in the paint.

Weird stat of the game II: Duncan’s absence was the seventh game his missed over the last two seasons. The Spurs are 1-6 in those games.   

Weird stat of  the game III: The Spurs are now 0-3 in the second game of home-road back-to-backs this season.

Quote of the game: “Splitter did his best Tim Duncan impresson,” Houston coach Kevin McHale, to reporters after the game about Splitter’s big game.

How the schedule stacks up: The Spurs have the day off  before facing Western Conference bottom feeder New Orleans Monday night, a home game Wednesday against Atlanta and road games Friday night at Minnesota and Jan. 29 at Dallas. For the Rockets, they play Monday at Minnesota, and then return home Wednesday against Milwaukee and Friday with Washington.

Injuries: Manu Ginobili missed his 12th game (record 7-5) after undergoing surgery for a fractured fifth left metacarpal.  T.J. Ford missed his seventh game (record 4-3) with a torn left hamstring. Parker appeared to be favoring his hip along the San Antonio sidelines midway during the fourth quarter, but later told  reporters it was merely discomfort from a fall suffered earlier this week. Houston center Jordan Hill returned to the lineup after missing his  last game with flu-like symptoms. Dalembert played despite a sprained left ankle.  And rookie forward Marcus Morris is out indefinitely with a sprained left ankle.

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