Flipping about on League Pass, switching back to the Houston-at-San Antonio game after tarrying too long elsewhere, the scene did not look good. Clearly, it was late, the game in its final stages, and there on the court lay Houston’s Chandler Parsons. Hands to his head, flat on his back, the Rockets forward seemed to be anguishing a defeat or at least a decisive play in the dwindling seconds that had tipped the night in San Antonio’s favor…
Then the replay popped onto the screen. And there was Parsons, fending off back spasms, catching an outlet pass, bursting behind the Spurs defense and slamming home a dunk that made it 110-106 with 16 seconds left before wincing to the floor in more pain.
Just another one of those agony-of-victory shots, as it turned out.
To which those of us at Hang Time HQ say: More, please.
Who among us wouldn’t welcome three more games very much like the one Saturday night in San Antonio, what with its dueling runs, its high-octane scoring and its last-minute drama, all played out against the backdrop of the teams’ I-10 rivalry and clash of life cycles (aging Spurs, building Rockets)? Three more in the regular season – including a Christmas Day treat – followed by, oh, seven at some point in the Western Conference playoffs.
That’s not too much to ask, is it?
The game Saturday also featured a tried-and-abandoned hack-a-Howard tactic – Dwight Howard made his final four free throws, thwarting that hope for San Antonio – and a little comic relief when Houston coach Kevin McHale got unusually close to Tim Duncan on an inbounds situation late in the first half.
While McHale hovered, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich thought it was anything but comic, picking up a technical foul for protesting too vociferously to referee Tom Washington. “I was in the coach’s box,” McHale said later, though he added: “I probably should’ve gone and sat my big [butt] on the other side.”
The Spurs suffered their first home loss this season. They also had a seven-game home winning streak over Houston snapped. The Rockets have won five in a row, but this one was the most impressive, coming at the end of a back-to-back against an opponent that has owned them.
There was a lot of talk afterward in the Houston locker room about how, last season, this game would have slipped away. Said James Harden, who had 31 points and rained in a 3-pointer to tie at 106: ”Last year we probably would have caved in. They would have beaten us by a lot. So, this year the improvement we’ve adjusted to has been tremendous.”
Houston’s 54-33 edge on the boards had a lot to do with it too. Forward Terrence Jones grabbed 16 and was a plus-11 in not quite 31 minuntes, while Howard grabbed 11. The Rockets turned their 12-4 advantage in offensive rebounds into 14 second-chance field goal attempts to the Spurs’ four.
There was some difference of opinion in Houston’s locker room afterward about Tony Parker launching 27 of San Antonio’s shots, en route to his 27 points. Harden felt it minimized the damage Parker could do as a playmaker and ultimately hurt his team’s 3-point shooters (9 of 26). But Howard wasn’t thrilled about San Antonio’s most dangerous scorer getting so many opportunities.
The best part is, we get three more chances to see which works best, and maybe a bunch beyond that come springtime.