Spurs vs. Houston Rockets
Western Conference semifinals
(Spurs lead series 2-1)
Game 1: Rockets 126, Spurs 99, Monday, AT&T Center
Game 2: Spurs 121, Rockets 96, Wednesday, AT&T Center
Game 3: Spurs 103, Rockets 92, Friday, Houston
Game 4: Sunday, 8 p.m., Houston
Game 5: Tuesday, May 9, (time TBD), AT&T Center
Game 6: Thursday, May 11, (time TBD), Houston*
Game 7: Sunday, May 14, (time TBD), AT&T Center*
Sports history is replete with stories about teams that defied the odds to win a big game after losing a key player to injury.
Playing their first postseason game in 16 years without point guard Tony Parker on Friday night, the Spurs pulled out a hard-fought 103-92 road win over the Houston Rockets to take a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinal series.
Parker ruptured a left quadriceps tendon in the Silver and Black’s Game 2 victory Wednesday and will miss the remainder of the playoffs after having surgery Friday.
With 20-year-old rookie Dejounte Murray starting for Parker, the Spurs relied on their defense in Game 3 to record one of the most stirring victories in their storied playoff history.
Now the big question for the Silver and Black will be whether they can harness the same emotion and discipline to win again without Parker in Game 4 Sunday night in Houston.
“It’s happened many times in the league when an important guy goes down. The others step up,” veteran Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said in a video on the Spurs’ website. “The challenge is to extend it and to adapt and adjust for longer periods of time, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Coach Gregg Popovich said Saturday that Murray will start again in Game 4, scheduled for 8 p.m. Murray played 14 minutes in Game 3, finishing with two points on 1-of-5 shooting, two rebounds, and two assists. It was a rough initiation for Murray, who had the tough task of going against Patrick Beverley, a fierce, physical defender.
“I’m a guy that’s always ready to go,” Murray said in a video on the Spurs’ website. “I’ve just got to get comfortable again and just go out there and play. I got my feet wet and now I know how it’s going to be and what to expect.”
Murray, who had played only 23 minutes in the playoffs before Friday night, started eight of the 38 games he appeared in this season. He missed more than a month with a groin injury before he returned to play five minutes against Utah in the regular-season finale.
“You could tell it’s a different ballgame,” Murray said of his first postseason start. “The atmosphere is way different. Players approach it differently. It’s something great to be a part of.”
Popovich spoke briefly about losing Parker when he was asked if he thought a team becomes more focused when a key player is sidelined.
“I guess, theoretically, of course,” Popovich said. “But when all is said and done, nobody cares who’s not out there. I feel horrible for Tony. He’s devastated. But when the game starts, there’s nobody in the gym that’s going to worry."
“All they care about is the ‘W’ or the ‘L’. Whoever’s on the court tries to do their best and go play. We’ve still got a lot of playing to do. Nobody’s accomplished anything yet.”
LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard led the Spurs’ scoring in Game 3 with 26 points each, and Patty Mills came off the bench to score 15. Pau Gasol and Danny Green finished with 12 and 11 points, respectively. Green buried three 3-pointers, with the last two giving the Spurs double-digits leads with less than four minutes left.
Gasol, who started his second consecutive game, finished with nine rebounds, four assists, and two blocks. He and Aldridge gave the Silver and Black solid inside play on both ends of the court. Aldridge had his best games of the series, getting his 26 points on 12-of-20 shooting and finishing with seven rebounds and four blocks.
Rockets point guard James Harden went off for 43 points after scoring only 13 in Game 2, but only two others Houston players finished in double figures – forward Trevor Ariza (17) and center Clint Capela (12). Ariza scored only two points in the second half after nailing five 3-pointers in the first two quarters.
“It’s a challenge,” Popovich said of trying to contain the freewheeling Houston offense. “They’ve got great shooters and athletes, a good scheme. Just like anyone else would do, we try to do our best to get out to those shooters. But James does a great job of making you think about what you’ve got to do to him, how much you can help other people. It’s enough to drive you crazy.”
After getting torched for 126 points in the series opener, the Spurs have held the Rockets to under 100 the last two games. They also limited Houston to a season-low 92 points in Game 3.
The Silver and Black won Game 3 despite committing 20 turnovers that the Rockets cashed in for 25 points.