SAN ANTONIO — The Spurs faced off against the Rockets for one more preseason tune-up game in Houston, losing 128-106 on an awful shooting night with defense that wasn't much better.
Gregg Popovich said earlier in the week that this will be more of a dress rehearsal for San Antonio's regular season opener against the Grizzlies. It didn't go so hot, and after the game Popovich said that the team hadn't done a good job of replicating the style they played in the bubble through the preseason.
"Not real well," Popovich said. "We're holding the ball a little bit too much, a lot too much, not enough penetration, but you're gonna get a little bit of that when you play the Rockets with all the switching, it's a little more difficult to do the things you want to do."
San Antonio certainly did have a difficult time doing the thing they wanted, namely put the orange ball in the hoop, and prevent Houston from doing the same.
The Spurs shot 3-27 from deep to start the game and finished at 7-33, and while the volume of good attempts is somewhat encouraging, the Spurs will need a couple of guys to shoot a lot better. Most of those shots were high quality looks, but the Spurs shooting them clearly still have some range finding to do before the season begins.
Defensive struggles continued for this team that built an identity around that end in Orlando. After the game, DeRozan said the Spurs needed to communicate, be aggressive, and play with a sense of urgency on that end.
Dejounte Murray agreed and took it a step further.
"If you get beat, you know your teammate got your back, that trust, and at the end of the day just effort, because you never know what effort will get you. Some dudes wanna play defense, some dudes don't wanna play defense, but when you give a full effort on the defensive end and offensive end, you never know what you're capable of doing."
"That's great what he said, but on my end I think a lot of effort. Just give effort and having that trust in your teammate having your back, I think that would help us out a lot."
San Antonio has a week of practice to figure it out before the regular season opener against the Memphis Grizzlies on December 23.
Coach Popovich couldn't have been happy when he called timeout down 13-5 after the first few minutes. LaMarcus Aldridge's struggles continued as he missed both threes he tried, and failed to post up the smaller Christian Wood.
Pop seemed irked after Wood dribbled coast to coast after a board, and the big man also drilled a corner 3 and made a jumper in the first quarter. DeMar DeRozan was the only Spur to make a bucket in the first 5 minutes, and Eric Gordon got the best of Rudy Gay on the perimeter a few times.
Houston pushed the lead to 10 after the timeout. Dejounte Murray missed a corner three, then got to the line on a drive, then missed a layup attempt.
San Antonio started the game an abysmal 1-13 from the floor, and Jakob Poeltl checked in for Aldridge as Patty Mills took over for Walker.
Pop's next timeout came with 3:07 left in the period, Houston in front 23-10. Spurs not named DeMar shot 0-11 to start the game.
DeRozan created out of the timeout, draining a layup and setting rookie Devin Vassell up for one of his own. Vassell matched up against Harden defensively for a bit, and contested his stepback well.
DeMar scored six straight points from the line for San Antonio, but the team couldn't get a stop.
The Spurs trailed 33-20 after the first.
The Rockets pushed their lead to 19 to open the second quarter, torching the Spurs with small ball as San Antonio ran two big men, prompting a timeout.
Vassell finished a hammer dunk over a few Rockets off a slick feed from Dejounte Murray.
After Murray and Walker collapsed the defense, Vassell drilled the team's first three. Murray dropped in a floater, then stole a pass from Harden and hit Vassell for a mid-range baseline jumper.
DeRozan hit a jumper, and Dejounte got to the rim in transition to make it an 11-0 run. A few plays later he got an and-1 scoop layup in the open court.
After scrapping for an offensive board, he put it up and in.
San Antonio shot under 30% from the floor and just 2-21 from three in the first half, so it's a small miracle they only trailed 60-45 at the half.
The Rockets pushed the lead to 31 to open the second half behind strong outside shooting and Christian Wood, who looked too fast and versatile for LaMarcus Aldridge to handle defensively.
Vassell drilled a corner three and then added a 20-footer to get to 14 points, but the Rockets finished the period up 98-68.
Wood had 27 points and 10 boards at the end of the third While San Antonio shot under 33% from the floor and 12% from three.
Vassell continued his superb play, sending a bounce pass from the arc to the rim for a layup before driving to the rim himself, drilling a mid-range shot and diming Dejounte Murray on another layup.
Rudy Gay and Patty Mills each hit a 3 after San Antonio started the game 3-27 from deep. San Antonio's starters cut into the deficit a bit in the waning minutes, but it was far too little too late.
DeRozan finished the game with 21 points, doing most of his work from the line. Murray added 17 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists, while Vassell scored 18 on 12 shots, adding 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. He's opened his career with 10+ points and multiple steals in his first three preseason games.
The Spurs finished the game from 7-33 three, and the 128-106 loss wasn't as close as the final score may indicate.
Things to watch
Will Aldridge, Lyles hit from outside?
The two big men will be asked to hit shots this year, especially beyond the arc. They've gotten up attempts in the first two preseason games, but a bit of rust is being shaken off as they both saw their first NBA minutes since March.
After a lot of talk around the team regarding LaMarcus Aldridge's new focus on the three-point shot, he followed up a 3-10 night from deep with 1-4 in the next game, neither of which is the percentage he's aiming for. He's only 8-26 from the floor to start the year. Both numbers will surely improve.
Lyles has had a rough go, shooting just 1-10 from deep and 4-21 from the floor to start the preseason.
In this game, Aldridge shot 3-12 from the floor and missed all 5 attempts from three, while Lyles shot 1-4 and missed both triples. Three straight games of poor shooting isn't a death knell and they should shake the rust off eventually. the question is, when?
What will the lineups look like?
Coach Pop has said that he plans to tinker less in this game and try out more of what the team will go for when the games actually count.
With injuries to Derrick White and Keldon Johnson, will Lonnie Walker IV and Devin Vassell step into those roles for the time being?
Does Rudy Gay stay in the starting lineup? Will Jakob Poeltl remain a bench option behind LaMarcus Aldridge unless the opposition starts two big men?
These questions won't be answered completely by tonight's game, but they'll be our best indication yet.
When asked before the game, Popovich said that the starters would get more minutes. Walker was pulled in the third quarter, and the vets have played less down the stretch as the rookies and other young prospects showed their wares. It will be interesting to see how much run the rookies get in this one if it's close.
When asked what he hopes to see from his team in this game, Pop laughed dismissively.
"I hope to see them all play well," he said with a chuckle. "What else would I hope for?"