The winner of Game 5 in a series tied 2-2 goes on to win 83 percent of the time. So the San Antonio Spurs are looking to hold home court advantage and put the Houston Rockets on the brink of elimination heading back to Houston for Game 6.
UPDATE: Patty Mills will start at point guard for the Spurs in Game 5 tonight, coach Gregg Popovich said in his pregame session with the media. Rookie Dejounte Murray had started the last two games at the point for Tony Parker, who ruptured a left quadriceps tendon in Game 2 and is out for the remainder of the postseason.
Spurs vs. Houston Rockets
Western Conference semifinals
(Series tied 2-2)
Game 1: Rockets 126, Spurs 99, May 1, AT&T Center
Game 2: Spurs 121, Rockets 96, May 3, AT&T Center
Game 3: Spurs 103, Rockets 92, Friday, Houston
Game 4: Rockets 125, Spurs 104, Sunday, Houston
Game 5: Tuesday, 7 p.m., AT&T Center
Game 6: Thursday, 7 p.m., Houston
Game 7: Sunday, 2:30 p.m., AT&T Center*
SAN ANTONIO – Will Tuesday night be the last time the Spurs play at home this season?
It could be if the Silver and Black don’t play better than they did Sunday night in a 21-point road loss to the Houston Rockets in Game 4 of their Western Conference semifinal series.
Taking advantage of the Spurs’ porous defense, especially in transition, the Rockets knocked down 19 three-pointers in rolling to a 125-104 win that tied the series 2-2.
Houston bedeviled the Silver and Black with a smaller lineup after it lost backup center Nene to a groin injury in the first quarter.
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni replaced starting forward Ryan Anderson (6-10) at the beginning of the second half with sixth man Eric Gordon (6-4), who joined point guard James Harden (6-4), guard Patrick Beverley (6-1), forward Trevor Ariza (6-8) and center Clint Capela (6-10) in the lineup.
The smaller lineup created mismatches for Houston and had the Spurs scrambling on defense throughout the second half.
With Nene out for the remainder of the playoffs, D’Antoni will start Gordon from the get-go in Game 5 Tuesday night and go small, drawing San Antonio big men LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol away from the paint and making them guard smaller, quicker players.
How San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich counters D’Antoni’s strategy could go a long way in determining who wins the clash of contrasting styles.
“We both played small from time to time, so it’s nothing new,” Popovich said after Game 4. “But they executed out of it very, very well, and we guarded very poorly.”
Game 5 is at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the AT&T Center. The series moves back to Houston for Game 6 on Thursday. San Antonio would host Game 7, if necessary, at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
When a best-of-seven series is tied 2-2, the Game 5 winner goes on to take the series 83 percent of the time, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
A loss in Game 5 would put the Spurs in the precarious position of having to win Game 6 in Houston to force a seventh game.
Veteran guard Manu Ginobili didn’t mince words when he talked about what the Spurs’ collective mindset must be heading into Game 5.
“Game 5 is a Game 7,” Ginobili said after Game 4. “We had a great opportunity to go back to San Antonio 3-1 and in a better situation. Now it’s 2-2. We have to go in knowing that every possession is a game-winning possession.”
Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge stressed the importance of playing with the kind of intensity the Rockets showed in Game 4.
“They came out and they played like it was a big game for them,” Aldridge said. “They pushed it at us more than they did the other game (Game 3). They caught us in transition not set. I think we have to communicate better in transition and try to get to shooters better. I thought we got caught in the middle trying to find guys and not really talking enough.
“They played with more pep, more energy than we did. We always pride ourselves on bringing the energy. I feel like they played like they wanted the game more. We kind of got on our heels a little bit and they just kept going.”
The Rockets shot 52.6 percent overall (50/95) and 44.2 percent (19/43) from long distance.
The Spurs fell behind by 15 points in the first quarter of Game 4, but trailed by only four at the half (57-53). Pau Gasol made it a two-point game when he scored on the first possession of the third quarter. But that’s as close as the visitors got.
Sparked by six 3-pointers, two each by Harden and Gordon, the Rockets put the Silver and Black on their heels with a 22-6 run that gave Houston a 79-61 lead with 5:42 left in the third period.
The Rockets set the tone early, nailing four 3-pointers in racing to a 34-22 lead after one quarter. After scoring only nine fast-break points in the Spurs’ 103-92 win in Game 3 on Friday night, Houston had 13 by the end of the first quarter on Sunday.
“The tale was really told in that first quarter,” Popovich said. “For us, our Bible begins with transition defense. If it’s not there, then we’re just not ready to go. If you’d seen the clips of our transition D, you would’ve traded all the players and fired me by the end of the game.
“It was that bad. But they (Rockets) were that intense. They were that focused and they were that professional, and we were not.”
The Rockets hit 19 of 43 shots from the 3-point line Sunday, falling three short of the franchise-record 22 they nailed in the series opener. Houston made 11 and 12 threes in their losses in Games 2 and 3.
“It’s what they do,” Ginobili said of the Rockets’ 3-point shooting. “It shouldn’t get us by surprise. When you give them the ball, take bad shots, they run at you and they take threes. I think we gave them a lot of opportunities to score those threes.
“We were not as attentive and responsive in many situations as we were two days ago, and they make you pay. They make you pay. They had more energy. They had more anger because of what happened the previous game, and they were more ready to play this game.”
Houston had 12 threes in Game 3 and 11 in Game 2, both losses.
In addition to shoring up their defense, the Spurs must find a way to get Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard going offensively in Game 5. They each finished Game 4 with 16 points after scoring 26 apiece in Game 3. Jonathon Simmons came off the bench to lead the Spurs with 17 points, a career playoff high.