Battle of the Benches
The Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs will kick off their second-round matchup tonight in San Antonio. Both teams are coming off hard fought first round series and are looking towards a spot in the Western Conference Finals. Houston defeated the Russell Westbrook led Oklahoma City Thunder in five games, while the Spurs took care of business against the Memphis Grizzlies in six games. There are many takes to point out during this series, which make it the first great series of the postseason. Even though we could spend hours talking about all the different matchups and scenarios that could play out during this series, I’d like to focus on the benches of both teams.
The Rockets showed the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs that it takes more than one superstar to win consistently in this league. In this case, it took the Houston bench to get them out of the first round. The Rockets believe they have eight starters on their team and distribute minutes accordingly. The three who come off the bench are Lou Williams, Eric Gordon, and Nene Hilario. If it had not been for their performance in the first round, we might not be talking about the Rockets at this point in time. There were times throughout the series where James Harden went cold from the floor and the offense needed a spark. Enter Williams, Nene, and Gordon. Williams and Gordon were able to knock down outside shots and open the floor for Nene on the inside during pick and rolls.
During this matchup with the Spurs, those three men must have similar statistics (if not better) to withstand the onslaught that is the San Antonio Spurs offense. Without major contributions from these players, the Rockets may find themselves down in this series quick searching for answers.
San Antonio Spurs:
The Spurs are a much different team than the Houston Rockets in many aspects. They have a first ballot Hall of Fame coach who has done it all before in Gregg Popovich. Popovich has more experience in the postseason than any other coach in the league, so he knows what it takes to win. The Spurs have stars in Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, and LaMarcus Aldridge compared to Houston’s one in James Harden. Despite having stars who can take over at any point in the game, the Spurs philosophy has not changed in years. No one man is more important than the others. The Spurs always look to get all their players involved and look for favorable matchups instead of relying on one star to get them over the top. The Spurs usually rotate ten guys on any given night and guys like Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili, and Patty Mills see an extended look most nights.
The Spurs are a veteran team with one of the best front offices in the business. Despite early struggles against the Grizzlies, San Antonio should come away from this series victorious with many different advantages, whether it’s in the starting lineup or coming off the bench. Expect the Rockets to become fatigued as the series goes on against a much more depth based San Antonio team.