Ariza, Capela, Harden combine for 63 points as Rockets rout Spurs 126-99 in Game 1

Spurs vs. Houston Rockets
Western Conference semifinals
(Rockets lead series 1-0)

Game 1: Rockets 126, Spurs 99, Monday, AT&T Center
Game 2: Wednesday, 8:30 p.m., AT&T Center
Game 3: Friday, 8:30 p.m., 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*
*if necessary

SAN ANTONIO – The last time the Spurs and Houston Rockets met in the regular season, Kawhi Leonard hit a 3-pointer with 25.4 seconds left and then blocked a layup by James Harden to preserve a 112-110 victory for the Silver and Black.

There was no much drama Monday night when the Interstate 10 rivals squared off in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals at the AT&T Center.

As the Silver and Black probably would attest after getting embarrassed by the Rockets, sometimes it doesn’t pay to get out of bed in the morning.

Trevor Ariza scored 23 points and James Harden and Clint Capela finished with 20 each, leading the Rockets to a 126-99 blowout that sent Spurs fans to the exits early in the fourth quarter. Ahead 69-39 at halftime and 96-67 after three quarters, Houston led by as many as 39 points in the fourth period.

The Rockets torched the Silver and Black from the 3-point line, nailing 22 of 50 shots. The 22 treys are a record for a San Antonio opponent in the postseason.

The loss was the Spurs' worst in Game 1 of a playoff series under Gregg Popovich, who has coached the Silver and Black for 21 seasons.

"We lost, and they won," Popovich said at his postgame news conference. "And they played better."

Asked if he was worried that the lopsided defeat would have a carry-over effect, Popovich said: "Am I going to worry about carry-over like we'll come and play just as badly again, or the guys won't show up? There's not much that coaches don't worry about, but that won't be one of them, in all honesty."

Game 2 is at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the AT&T Center.

Leonard led the Spurs with 21 points and Tony Parker finished with 11. Jonathon Simmons came off the bench to score 11 points, all in the fourth quarter. LaMarcus Aldridge had a tough night, finishing with only four points.

"They came out ready," Aldridge said. "They outplayed us tonight. They made most of their shots. Guys competed, but I thought we made mistakes early. They took advantage of it. Once they had offensive rhythm, they were rolling. And we never really found ours."

The Rockets shot 46 percent overall (40/87) and 44 percent (22/50) from the 3-point line.  Houston had 30 assists on its 40 made field goals.

"Just taking what the defense give us," Harden said. "Last series (against Oklahoma City) was more of a grind out. We weren't really making a lot of threes. We had to figure out a way to get paint points, and this series, so far, they gave us opportunities to shoot threes."

Harden, who moved to point guard in Mike D'Antoni's first season as the Rockets' coach, showed his chops as a playmaker, finishing with 14 assists. He also hurt the Spurs with his shooting, hitting 6 of 13 attempts, including 3 of 8 from the 3-point line. 

Ariza had a stellar game, nailing 5 of 10 shots from beyond the arc. Anderson made 4 of 10 from downtown, and Eric Gordon hit 3 of 6. 

"There are always two sides to the court," D'Antoni said. "I thought we played as well as we can play. They missed some open shots and they had their opportunities early and it kind of got away from them. You do what you can do. It is going to be a battle, and you try to be competitive. 

"Obviously, we are really happy with our defense and what we did, knowing that this was kind of abnormal because they are not going to miss shots like that again. They are going to bounce back. They are championship-type caliber players, and we know we have got to repeat it again."

The Silver and Black were 36.9 percent (31/84) from the field and 31 percent (9/29) from beyond the arc.

"I don't think we executed in a very wise manner," Popovich said. "We disobeyed a lot of basic basketball rules that they can take advantage of. If we're going to shoot quickly and shoot poorly, it's going to be a fast break deal all night long, and they're better at that than we are. 

"So we've got to play a lot smarter than what we saw tonight. I thought they played really well in every facet of the game."

The series moves to Houston for Games 3 and 4 on Friday and Sunday.

Here is a quarter-by-quarter breakdown of Monday night's Spurs-Grizzlies game:

Final: Rockets 126, Spurs 99. Houston wins series opener. Game 2 is at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the AT&T Center.

Fourth quarter (5:24): Rockets 119, Spurs 82. Houston has made 20 3-pointers tonight, a record for a Spurs opponent in the playoffs. 

Fourth quarter (8:49): Rockets 106, Spurs 72. Both teams have taken their starters out. It's over. Houston has made 17 3-pointers, a record for a Spurs opponent in the playoffs.

End of third quarter: Rockets 96, Spurs 67. Houston has hit 15 of 37 3-pointers, matching a San Antonio playoff opponent in the postseason. Trevor Ariza and James Harden lead the Rockets with 23 and 20 points, respectively. Kawhi Leonard has scored 21 for the Silver and Black and Tony Parker has 11. The Spurs are shooting 35.5 percent (22/62) overall and 32 percent (8/25) from the 3-point line. San Antonio outscored Houston 30-29 in the period after trailing 69-39 at the half. Houston center Nene was ejected after getting in an altercation with Spurs center Dewayne Dedmon as the quarter ended.

Third quarter (6:29): Rockets 80, Spurs 45. Houston has made 13 shots from the 3-point line.

Halftime: Rockets 69, Spurs 39. Houston hit 12 of 27 shots from the 3-point line in the first half. James Harden and Trevor Riza lead the Rockets with 16 and 15 points, respectively. They have made three 3-pointers each. Ryan Anderson, who has 11 points, also made three 3-pointers. Kawhi Leonard leads the Silver and Black with 12 points. 

First-half notes: The worst-case scenario for the Spurs reared its ugly head in the first half. They couldn't contain the high-scoring Houston offense and their offensive execution was poor. The Rockets shots 48.9 percent (23/47) overall and 44.4 percent (12/27) from the 3-point line . . . The Silver and Blaclk shot 31.8 percent (14/44) overall and 23.5 percent (4/17) from beyond the arc. Kawhi Leonard (12) was the only Spur who scored in double figures . . . Houston led 23-23 after one quarter and outscored San Antonio 35-16 in the second period. 

Second quarter (3:39): Rockets 60, Spurs 25. James Harden leads Houston with 13 points, and Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson have 11 apiece. Kawhi Leonard leads the Silver and Black with 10 points.

Second quarter (5:13): Rockets 58, Spurs 34. Houston has made 11 of 23 shots from the 3-point line. 

Second quarter (8:59): Rockets 47, Spurs 25. Houston is making short work of the Silver and Black. The Rockets have nailed 9 of 16 shots from the 3-point line. The Spurs look like they're stuck in mud.

End of first quarter: Rockets 34, Spurs 23. James Harden and Trevor Ariza lead Houston with 11 and 8 points, respectively. Kawhi Leonard leads the Silver and Black with 10 points. The  Rockets shot 54.5 percent (12/22) overall and 46.2 percent (6/13) from the 3-point line. The Spurs shot 42.9 percent (9/21) overall and 33.3 percent (3/9) from beyond the arc.

First quarter (2:22): Rockets 28, Spurs 13. Houston has hit  5 of 11 shots from the 3-point line. 

SPURS-ROCKETS: Series will showcase Leonard-Harden matchup

Note: The tipoff time for Game 4 on Sunday in Houston has been moved to 8 p.m. It originally was scheduled for 7. 

Spurs vs. Houston Rockets
Western Conference semifinals

Game 1: Monday, 8:30 p.m., AT&T Center
Game 2: Wednesday, 8:30 p.m., AT&T Center
Game 3: Friday, 8:30 p.m., 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*
*if necessary

SAN ANTONIO – After watching Kawhi Leonard score 18 first-half points in Game 2 of the Spurs-Grizzlies first-round playoff series, TNT studio analysts Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley made headlines when they said Leonard is the second-best player in the NBA behind LeBron James.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich went one better after the Silver and Black beat Memphis 103-96 last Thursday to win the series 4-2.  

“Kawhi Leonard is, in my opinion, the best player in the league right now,” Popovich said after Game 6. “He’s the best two-way player and does it all with such class. It’s impressive.”

Leonard averaged 31.2 points against the Grizzlies and had a career playoff-high 43 in a gut-wrenching 110-108 overtime loss in Game 4. He set a torrid pace in the first round, shooting 54.8 percent from the field, 48.3 percent from beyond the arc and 96.7 from the foul line.  

Leonard also anchored a Spurs defense that finally made enough stops to turn back a gritty Memphis squad in the last two games of the series.

The Spurs will need that kind of herculean effort from Leonard again when they play the high-scoring Houston Rockets in the Western Conference semifinals. Led by prolific guard James Harden, the Rockets beat Oklahoma City in four of five games to advance to their first postseason meeting with San Antonio in 22 years.

Game 1 is at 8:30 p.m. Monday at the AT&T Center.

The Silver and Black took the season series with Houston 3-1, but their victories were by a total of only 10 points. Leonard had a stellar game in the Spurs’ 112-110 win in the teams’ final regular-season meeting, scoring 37 points and hitting a game-winning 3-pointer with 25 seconds left. He capped his big night by blocking a layup by Harden as time ran out.   

San Antonio and Houston started the Western Conference playoffs seeded No. 2 and No. 3, respectively.

For the Spurs, playing solid transition defense and guarding against the 3-point shot will be critical for success against the freewheeling Rockets.

“That’s the whole key to this series,” Parker said Sunday. “They’re a very good offensive team. A lot of 3-point shooters everywhere. We understand that it starts with our defense. If we don’t stop them, it’s going to be a long series for us.”

While Harden is Houston’s catalyst, the Rockets have five other players averaging double figures – Eric Gordon (16.2), Lou Williams (14.9), Ryan Anderson (13.6), Clint Capela (12.6) and Trevor Ariza (11.7).

The Spurs-Rockets matchup is being billed as a duel between Leonard and Harden, two MVP candidates who have carried their teams throughout the season. But Leonard, who will alternate with Danny Green in guarding Harden, downplayed the one-on-one matchup.

“I’m just trying to win,” Leonard said. “That’s all that I want to bring out of this series, my team on top coming out with a victory."

While Leonard was careful not to get caught up in the hype of the matchup with Harden, he acknowledged that playing against the Rockets guard brings out the best in him.

“Definitely,” Leonard said, “especially if I’m guarding him. It’s going to take my all to make it difficult for him out there. He’s a great scorer.”

Harden averaged 29.8 points, 11.3 rebounds and 9.5 assists in the four regular-season games against the Spurs. He had triple-doubles in the first two games.

The Rockets had a tough time containing Leonard, who averaged 28.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists in the four games against Houston.

Harden averaged 33.2 points against OKC. He led Houston with 34 points in the series-clinching 105-99 victory at home in Game 5 last Tuesday, but his shooting was off. Harden made only 8 of 25 field-goal attempts, including 2 of 13 from the 3-point line. As usual, Harden cashed in at the free-throw line, hitting 16 of 17 attempts.

The Rockets sped up their offense, spread the floor and let the 3-pointers fly in their first season under coach Mike D’Antoni.

Houston averaged 112.8 points and shot 28.4 percent (48/169) from the 3-point line in the five-game series with the Thunder. The Rockets were 134 of 168 (79.8 percent) from the free-throw line.

Houston ranked No. 2 in the NBA behind Golden State in scoring offense, averaging 115.3 points. But the Rocket were near the bottom in scoring defense, ranking 26th among 30 teams with a 109.6 average.

The Spurs averaged 104.7 points against the Grizzlies after averaging 105.3 (14th) during the regular season. They were second in scoring defense (98.1).

The Silver and Black could be hard-pressed to keep up with the Rockets if they can’t slow down Harden, and don’t get more scoring help for Leonard and Tony Parker. LaMarcus Aldridge, who had 17 points and 12 rebounds in the series clincher against Memphis, will be counted on to score more.

Can San Antonio match Houston’s firepower if it comes to that?

“We don’t want to, but I feel if we have to, I think we’re capable,” Green said. “We have enough guys that can put the ball in the basket, especially at an up-and-down-pace type of game. I think most guys prefer it. I think they’ll give us an opportunity to score more. We’ve just got to take care of the ball.”

Except for going scoreless in a Game 3 loss to Memphis, Parker has stepped up his game in the playoffs, averaging 16.3 points. He averaged only 10.1 points during the regular season, his lowest scoring output since his rookie season in 2001-2002.

“In the playoffs, it’s all about matchups and stuff like that,” Parker said. “Memphis made a couple of decisions on how they were going to guard me, so I was able to be aggressive and take advantage of it. I always try to do what is asked."

“This series (vs. Memphis)  I was asked to be more aggressive, so that’s what I did. The regular season, I tried to get LaMarcus and Kawhi the ball. I just do whatever Pop wants.”

One of the storylines of the series is the playoff history between Popovich and D'Antoni. They have squared off four times in the previous 12 postseasons,  with Popovich and the Spurs winning each series. The Silver and Black beat the Phoenix Suns in 2005, 2007 and 2008, and the Los Angeles Lakers in 2013 when D'Antoni coached those teams.  

The Spurs went on to win league titles in 2005 and 2007, and made the Finals in 2013. 

Spurs-Rockets 2016-17 regular-season series (Spurs, 3-1)

Rockets 101, Spurs 99, Nov. 9, San Antonio
Spurs 106, Rockets 100, Nov. 12, Houston
Spurs 102, Rockets 100, Dec. 20, Houston
Spurs 112, Rockets 110, March 6, San Antonio

Spurs-Rockets playoff history (Rockets lead 3-0)

1980: Rockets won first-round series 2-1
1981: Rockets won Western Conference semifinals 4-3
1995: Rockets won Western Conference fi

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