SPURS BLAST ROCK­ETS

San An­to­nio win sec­ond-round se­ries in six games and ad­vance to play­off fi­nals

New Straits Times - - Sport -

THE San An­to­nio Spurs hu­mil­i­ated the Hous­ton Rock­ets on Thurs­day with a 114-75 game six close­out win that brought James Har­den’s MVP-wor­thy sea­son to a star­tling halt.

LaMar­cus Aldridge paced the of­fence by scor­ing 34 points for the short-handed Spurs, who routed the Rock­ets de­spite the ab­sence of top scorer Kawhi Leonard and star guard Tony Parker.

“Ev­ery­body picked it up. It wasn’t one guy scor­ing 40 points,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “They played well at the of­fen­sive end with a lot of sense and de­fen­sively it was one of our best nights.”

San An­to­nio won the sec­on­dround se­ries in six games and punched their ticket to the Western Con­fer­ence play­off fi­nals against the Golden State War­riors, which kicks off to­mor­row.

Har­den’s baf­fling per­for­mance in front of a Hous­ton crowd of 18,050 at the Toy­ota Cen­tre arena was al­most as big a stun­ner as the Spurs’ win­ning a NBA play­off elim­i­na­tion con­test by a whop­ping 39 points.

The Rock­ets 75 points was sec­ond-low­est in a game dur­ing the Har­den era.

And the Spurs didn’t need Parker (torn left quadri­ceps) or Leonard (sore left an­kle) to do it.

Jonathon Sim­mons added 18 points in place of Leonard, while Patty Mills chipped in 14 points and seven as­sists.

Pau Ga­sol tal­lied 10 points with 11 re­bounds for San An­to­nio, who trailed 5-4 in the first quar­ter be­fore coast­ing to the win.

San An­to­nio shot 53 per­cent from the field, com­piled a 60-37 re­bound­ing ad­van­tage and lim­ited Hous­ton to 28 per­cent shoot­ing.

“They feel as bad as I do. It is go­ing to hurt and linger,” said Rock­ets coach Mike D’An­toni.

Har­den was a non-fac­tor on Thurs­day af­ter fin­ish­ing sec­ond in scor­ing dur­ing the sea­son at 29.1 points per game. He did not at­tempt a shot un­til the 6:19 mark of the sec­ond quar­ter.

Har­den ac­cepted some of the blame for the loss.

“I just didn’t have rhythm,” Har­den said. “I was mak­ing passes and we didn’t knock down shots.

“It falls on my shoul­ders. It is tough, es­pe­cially the way we lost at home.”

By half­time Har­den had as many points as turnovers (five each), and just two field-goal at­tempts at the in­ter­mis­sion.

Har­den fin­ished with 10 points on two-of-11 shoot­ing with seven as­sists and six turnovers. Trevor Ariza paced Hous­ton with 20 points, and Clint Capela had 15 points and 12 boards.

Asked if Har­den was in­jured, D’An­toni said, “He’s been bat­tling that cold, but noth­ing I know of. I don’t want to lit­i­gate what just hap­pened.”

Leonard hopes to re­turn to ac­tion to­mor­row for game one of the NBA semi-fi­nal se­ries.

The Rock­ets had been 3-0 against San An­to­nio in post­sea­son se­ries, win­ning in the first round in 1980, the con­fer­ence semi-fi­nals in 1981, and the con­fer­ence fi­nals in 1995.

The other NBA semi-fi­nal fea­tures the Cleve­land Cava­liers against ei­ther the Bos­ton Celtics or the Wash­ing­ton Wizards.

The Celtics lead their sec­ond round se­ries 3-2 and could have closed it out with a win yes­ter­day in Wash­ing­ton.

RE­SULT: 2nd Rd play­off (be­stof-seven se­ries) — Western Con­fer­ence: San An­to­nio 114 Hous­ton 75 (San An­to­nio win 4-2). AFP

AP PIC

Rock­ets’ James Har­den (right) drives to the bas­ket as Spurs’ Danny Green de­fends dur­ing their NBA sec­ond-round play­off se­ries in Hous­ton on Thurs­day.

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