San Antonio Spurs: 3 takeaways from Game 5 thriller vs. Rockets

San Antonio Spurs

May 9, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Manu Ginobili (20) shoots the ball as Houston Rockets power forward Ryan Anderson (3) and Trevor Ariza (1) defend during the first half in game five of the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

In one of the most entertaining games of the year, the San Antonio Spurs took a 3-2 series lead over the Houston Rockets. Here is a recap, and what to look for in Game 6.

The series between the San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets just became the most interesting in the 2017 NBA Playoffs. The first four games between these teams featured a few blowouts, some great performances, and good coaching adjustments. But Game 5 was the culmination of a matchup that gets more fascinating by the game.

Mike D’Antoni is starting Eric Gordon in this game? Sounds like Gregg Popovich is going to counter with Patty Mills. As Reggie Miller pointed out last night on the broadcast, Mills is the third different starting point guard the Spurs have used in the series.

The two coaches are countering each other like Nadal and Federer in their primes, and Pop was able to win the hardest fought rally of the series.

There’s been a lot of discussion in the last couple weeks about the NBA being boring or inevitable. We all expect that the Warriors and Cavaliers will sweep their way to Finals, and then go head-to-head in a great series. That may be the case when it’s all said and done, but how can you not be entertained by Game 5 in this series?

Here are the three things that really jumped out from this game:

Rotations

A lot of discussion has already ensued regarding the Rockets playing only seven guys in Game 5. Without Nene, D’Antoni seems reluctant to even try any bigs off of the bench, with the exception of Ryan Anderson. Even Sam Dekker, a big body who can stretch the floor, didn’t play a second Tuesday night.

The Spurs rebounded 32.1 percent of their own misses last night, which is a dominant mark. Over the years, Pop has a tendency to get his players back on defense instead of crashing the offensive glass. But in this series, their size is the biggest advantage that they have, and it worked perfectly in that game.

The Rockets (44.2 percent) actually shot significantly better from the field than San Antonio (40.8 percent), but when you allow the other team to get far more possessions than you, well, eventually they’re gonna put the ball in the basket.

Stars

So James Harden had a really good statistical game, with a line of 33-10-10, shooting 11-of-24 from the field. The blemish of his nine turnovers might be enough to really scar the performance, but all in all he was very good, especially in the first half.

He kept the offense humming when it looked like it was getting bogged down, and got his teammates the open shots they needed all game. The Rockets struggle when they can’t hit open jumpers, and that was the case for long stretches in Game 5.

In the fourth quarter and overtime though, Harden was visibly laboring, and the offense became somewhat stagnant. It’s not like the Rockets have a great defense to rely on when the shooting goes cold, or when The Beard isn’t dominating one-on-one.

They may need to give Harden a little more rest earlier in the game so that he’s fresh when it’s closing time. Look for the Rockets to play more than seven players next game, perhaps looking to Montrezl Harrell, Dekker or even Troy Williams for some energy.

As for the efficient robot superstar we call Kawhi Leonard, he started the game off slowly, going 4-for-11. But a strong second half and some crashing of the glass on both ends got him to 22 points and 15 rebounds, despite a poor shooting night.

That was basically the theme for this game for the entire team, and if the Spurs can exploit that rebounding advantage again, it will be huge. The rebounding controlled the pace as well, not allowing the Rockets to get out in transition for easy threes.

He also had a vintage Klaw sequence, where he blocked a shot off the backboard by flying in from the top of the key.

By the way, he went down the other end and scored. Pretty much sums up his MVP case doesn’t it? Who else does that?

“Unlikely” Heroes

The two biggest heroes of the game for the Spurs were Jonathon Simmons and Manu Ginobili. Let’s start with Simmons, the guy who famously had to pay for a tryout with the Spurs’ D-League (G-League?) team just 18 months ago. He was the primary defender on Harden for large stretches and drew a key charge late in the fourth quarter.

For a guy who probably wouldn’t be in the league if not for Gregg Popovich giving him a chance, this had to be a career-best moment. He’s so athletic that he can stick with Harden even though he bites on a lot of his fakes and hesitations. He recovered back onto Harden a handful of times, and directly forced five of Harden’s nine turnovers in the game.

The Rockets also leave Simmons basically wide open from downtown and dare him to hit open threes. He didn’t hit any of his four attempts from there, and still made a big impact on the game by doing everything else the team needed. If he can hit even one or two of those threes, he’d be a big problem for them to deal with.

But now let’s talk about the Spurs’ secret weapon, Manu Ginobili. The guy is the second-oldest player in the league (shoutout to Vince Carter, also still relevant). His body and his basketball soul have been in direct conflict all year, and he’s only averaged three points a game in the playoffs.

Last night, however, he turned back the clock, playing 31 minutes, and finishing with a 12-7-5 stat line. Whenever the Rockets were going on a run, Manu would hit a big shot, or surprise the defense with a great pass.

The Spurs needed someone to step up without Leonard on the court late in the fourth and in overtime. I remember thinking “If Kawhi is hurt for overtime, the Spurs are done.” What I should have added was “unless something crazy happens.”

Something crazy did happen, and just when all the Spurs fans thought it couldn’t get any better, Manu made San Antonio’s defensive play of the year, blocking Harden’s potential game-tying three. Here it is in all its glory, from many different angles, so we can all appreciate it:

Nobody said it better than ESPN’s Zach Lowe.

With a 3-2 series lead and Kawhi Leonard possibly banged up for Game 6, the series shifts back to Houston. Don’t be surprised to see this one go seven games.

Game 6 will be Thursday night.

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