The skid ends: Three takeaways from Saturday’s 122-110 win over the Spurs

Dec 8, 2022; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets forward Tari Eason (17) drives to the basket against San Antonio Spurs forward Doug McDermott (17) during the second half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

The skid ends: Three takeaways from Saturday’s 122-110 win over the Spurs

The Rockets avoided losing their 12th in a row after beating the Spurs 122-110 on Saturday night in San Antonio. Eight Rockets finished in double-figures, led by Tari Eason’s 20 points off the bench, while Alperen Sengun added 16. Playing without leading scorers Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell, Devonte Graham led the Spurs with 28 points; all of his made field goals came from behind the 3-point line.

Controlling the paint

No team allows more points in the paint than the Spurs, and the Rockets took full advantage of their porous paint defense. San Antonio entered the game allowing 56 paint points per game, and the Rockets had that after three quarters and finished with 74.

The Rockets’ 30 fast break points led to a lot of the damage they did inside, but not all of it. With Jakob Poeltl now in Toronto, the Spurs have no rim protection, and the Rockets took advantage by playing downhill and getting to the rim while not settling for bad shots.

As good as the Rockets’ paint offense was on Saturday, their paint defense was equally as effective. San Antonio entered the game averaging 56.4 points in the paint, but on this night, they scored just 36. Houston entered the game with the league’s sixth-stingiest paint defense, surrendering just 47.9 points per game.

Tari Eason and Josh Christopher provide a big lifts

Eason checked into the game with 5:47 left in the first quarter, and he was so good, Stephen Silas let him play for 15 consecutive minutes. He missed both his shots in the first quarter, but within the first three minutes of the second quarter, he had four points, two blocks, and a steal as the Rockets started the period on a 12-5 run to turn a three-point deficit to a four-point lead.

Eason made all five of his shots in the second quarter for 12 points, and for the game, he finished with 20 points.

Christopher gave the Rockets a boost with seven points off the bench over the final three minutes of the first quarter, and he continued his strong play, finishing with 14 points, 4 assists, and just two turnovers.

Alperen Sengun: Sharp shooter

Alperen Sengun’s 16-point, 10-rebound, 4-assist night won’t leap off the page, though he did have a no-look assist with his backside on the floor in the third quarter, but the stat that matters most on this night was he was 1-of-2 from behind the three-point line. Teams continue to give him that shot, and he keeps making it; he’s just not shooting it enough.

Sengun is shooting 47% from long distance since Jan. 1, but he’s only taken 19. He needs to take that shot more often for two reasons. The first is that he can make it, and the shot always looks good whenever it comes off his hand. The second reason is that it will change the way teams defend him. The opposing center will have to leave the paint, opening up all sorts of passing lanes for an elite passing big man while creating space for cutters.

The Rockets center finished with four turnovers. The last came when he passed on a three, instead opting to pump and drive against Zach Collins, where he was out of control and turned the ball over.

Next up

The Rockets and Spurs will make the quick trip down I-10 for a rematch on Sunday night at the Toyota Center.

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