For five games there was no telling who would take the Western Conference Semifinal series between the San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets. Leading 3-2 in the matchup the Spurs needed victory in Game 6 to advance. They got it in style, dominating on both ends of the floor as their defense stifled and their attack slayed in this Texan showdown.
The crowd at the Toyota Center hoisted a “Fear the Beard” sign all year long, as James Harden staked his claim to the League MVP title with stellar play this season. Come next term, the probability that they will be singing the praises of their Angolan-Congolese/Swiss Center, Clint Capela is very high, as the 22 year old, 3rd year big man continued his impressive playoff basketball in the 114-75 loss to San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals.
Capela scored led Rockets with 9 points, 5 rebounds and shot 100 percent in the first quarter, and put up a generally good performance at both ends of the floor as his team mates flagged in the face of a furious San Antonio Spurs assault. Capela ended with 15 points and was the only Rocket with double figures in rebounds with 12 boards. Harden, who fouled out with 3:15 left in the game, was held to just 10 points on 2-11 shooting in 37 minutes, and added 7 assists and 6 turnovers. The Beard was nowhere near his deadly best as San Antonio smothered him and he couldn’t find his rhythm.
The announcement that Kawhi Leonard will not play just before tip-off, had swung betting patterns towards a likely Game 7, with the odds on James Harden scoring 40 points, reduced. But the five-time NBA Champions had other ideas. They jumped to a seven point lead (31-24) in the opening quarter, and never looked back. Houston were limited to just 7-16 shooting in that opening quarter (3-7 3-pointers) as their busy hands and moving feet denied Houston’s shooters a chance to settle into a rhythm. Harden didn’t attempt a single field goal in that period.
San Antonio on the other hand, were having a party. With Leonard side-lined, the bulk of the scoring load fell on LaMarcus Aldridge, who was presented with mismatches all night. He responded by pouring in 34 points on 16-26 shooting, and added 12 rebounds. Jonathon Simmons, who was inserted into the starting line-up for the first time in the postseason, responded with 18 points on 8-12 shooting. He also played some hard-nosed defense, as the Spurs frustrated the Rockets, and led by as many as 19 points (61-42) at the end of the first half.
The presence of Aldridge and Pau Gasol in the paint, and the constantly quick rotation of the Spurs defense on the perimeter, bothered Houston all night. The Rockets couldn’t find the open looks to launch their trade mark treys, and when they did manage to penetrate, Gasol and Aldridge got in the way, and it either led to shot clock violations, altered shots or turnovers. The Rockets shot just 28.6 percent from field goal range and turned the ball over 13 times. They were also out rebounded 60-37.
Patty Mills, who once again started as point guard in place of the injured Tony Parker, scored 14 points before foul trouble made Gregg Popovich sit him. Dejounte Murray, who came on in his place, delivered 11 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists in 24 minutes, as the Spurs outscored the Rockets by 33 points with the Rookie PG on the floor.
Trevor Ariza led the Rockets with 20 points, Sam Dekker score six points on 2-2 shooting from range, and didn’t score again, going 0-4 the rest of the game. Pau Gasol contributed a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds, also dishing 5 assists in the Spurs cause.
The Western Conference Final featuring San Antonio Spurs against Golden State Warriors will tip off on Sunday line on Kwesé Sports.
By Akinbode Oguntuyi