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The Spurs are using power play off the bench to blow up the Houston Rockets

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When San Antonio vs Houston Rockets In a battle between two of the worst teams in the Western standings, the Spurs have proven the Rockets even worse. I’m not proud of that sentence, but it’s a long season and nothing much to be proud of (unless you’re Stanley Johnson – more on that later).

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With Keldon Johnson on the sidelines with minor bruised muscles, Devin Vassell started the game on a tear, scoring or assisting on five of the team’s first six buckets to propel them into a 10-point lead. This was the high point of the first half, as Houston looked like they were going to use their strong inside game to split the season series. Alperin Sengun, a very mobile big man who played solid against the Spurs when they met earlier this season, scored 14 points in the first half. Rockets TikTok hype man Jalen Green went down 11 before halftime, and the Juniors (Kenyon Martin and Kevin Porter) scored eight goals. Combined, the four players were 15 out of 21 from the ground and seemed to benefit from the Spurs’ string of turnovers (they would have 13 to Houston’s four in the half) and Jacob Poilet’s early troubles.

However, they kept Spurs close heading into half-time, trailing by just two points, thanks in part to buzzing hitting from Spear’s new signing Stanley Johnson. Johnson put in an impressive performance against the Rockets, playing with speed and intensity on his way to 10 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and a block in 19 minutes. Obviously, he would be another reason to join Tottenham’s action as the season approaches its middle.

Another reason for the closing score was Houston’s complete inability to hit a three-pointer. Coming into the game, they’re just below the Spurs in the team ratings at 33.0%, which is good for 25th out of 30. At 24th, it’s not like the Spurs have a lot of buzz in that department either, but at least tonight, they’ll dominate. Despite this, they finished 17th of 34 (50%) from behind the arc. Houston would shoot an ugly 5-for-24 (20.8%), including one for six in the first inning.

In the third, Spurs broke the game open behind Vassell, Trey Jones, and a very balanced effort off the bench. Vassell really gets ahead in games that have KJ on the bench, and tonight he’ll finish with 26 points (5/8 of 3), 4 rebounds, and 5 assists. He also got his own at bat when he made a tricky three as the shot clock was ticking down to end Spurs’ possession of the frame. Tottenham were leading by sixteen at that point and never looked back from there.

With Spurs ahead on 26 late in Game 4, coach Popović went to the bench and the crowd who stayed around enjoyed three minutes from Charles Basey trying (and mostly succeeding) to keep Boban Marjanović off the paint. Unlike the last minutes of the first game, there will be no revenge match for Bobo tonight, as he only managed two points in his time on the floor. His game is woefully out of place in the modern NBA, but I still miss this guy and his crazy rants. When the bell rings, the Spurs are winning 124-105 and (for now) they aren’t the worst team in the West.

Game notes

  • If you’re keeping score, the season is now over at 36.6%. I keep score.
  • Jeremy Suchan currently only shoots 46% from the free throw line, making some waves online by breaking his new free throw form…, I guess? something was:
  • One of the fun aspects of a team in the midst of rebuilding is seeing some surprising performances from players that would be buried in a typical Spurs season near the end of the bench. Stanley Johnson, Romeo Langford and Charles Basey have all shown flashes of high energy and exciting basketball and one can only think that at least one or two will remain on this list next year. Hey, you gotta take your winnings somewhere. It only finished the season at 36.6%, remember.
  • Don’t look now but Malakai Branham is getting hot. After a strong performance in the last game in Mexico City, he scored 14 points in 2/4 of the arc. He had a rough start to the season, but seems to be starting to spot the jacket. I hope these games build his confidence so the Spurs can have another gun on KJ nights and Vassell ends up with more games of “DNP – oh I don’t know, tickle my pinky bone.”
  • This seems like a good time to highlight the bench’s overall strong performance. Aside from Branham and Johnson, other notable contributors included Soshan (who returned to the bench for this game) with 12 points and 7 rebounds, and Doug McDermott with 16 points on 4/6 from three. Overall, five of the seven Spurs who scored in double figures were bench players. Fun side note: We almost had nine spurs in double digits. Freshmen Keita Bates Diop and Boultel finished with nine and eight, respectively.
  • I loved seeing Keldon on his feet cheering for the team on multiple occasions. It reminded me of Patty Mills and his years spent waving a towel from the corner of the bench. This team may not win the championship, but they seem to really love each other and root for team and individual success (unlike the Rockets, who may well love each other for all I know, but don’t seem to really enjoy playing together).

Play the game

This was hard. There were some really fun moments. Johnson’s halftime batter was arguably the more “meaningful” of the two as Vassell came in with just a few seconds left on the total game clock. Tre Jones also had another great moment in the third as he showed off his blazing foot speed by moving to the baseline around all five Rockets defenders to put him in place. But I still have to give it to Vassell because this third-quarter batter broke the Rockets’ back and more or less grabbed the game:

Up next: Thursday at New Orleans Pelicans

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