The Spurs took the win 114 to 75 Thursday night, sending them to the conference finals against the Golden State Warriors.
In the aftermath of the Rockets 39-point game six loss the night before, the man that brought James Harden to Houston was his biggest defender following the criticism that's been lobbed in his direction since the game ended.
First, the San Antonio Spurs had to endure the playoff-ending injury (courtesy of NBA.com), a ruptured quadriceps muscle to point guard Tony Parker.
One of the key players for San Antonio was Jonathan Simmons, the guy who started in place of Leonard.
Harden finished with 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting with seven assists and six turnovers.
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Trevor Ariza (20) and Clint Capela (15) were the only Rockets to score in double figures. That effort in a critical game stands to lengthens Popovich's rotation in the Western Conference Finals, and beyond if the Spurs advance, with Simmons particularly proving himself to be a viable fill-in for Leonard defensively.
"Kawhi Leonard is, in my opinion, the best player in the league right now", Popovich said, per CBS Sports' James Herbert. "Demanded the ball, got in good position. he was wonderful on the boards and of course he passes it really, really well and gets it moving for us".
Aldridge was the linchpin, posting 34 points and 12 rebounds, but he had plenty of help as the second-seeded Spurs set a date opposite top-seeded Golden State. "I don't know what it was". Thanks to NBA.com's awesome advanced statistics page, we can get a better idea of just how different Harden played last night. "A bunch of competitive guys, they play way more confident at home.it's going to be about taking care of the ball, playing confident, just trying to minimize our mistakes out there".
But despite the huge career-defining loss, it wasn't Harden who had the roughest night - it was this guy.
"Shoot, every day I kind of think and just reflect back on all it took to get to this point".
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For a moment in time, it seemed like the handsome plan that the Rockets had put together all season was bypassing the Spurs right before our eyes. That's why San Antonio is headed to the Western Conference finals, and Houston is headed home. James Harden did not play due to reasons that the public is not aware of.
Morey mentioned that the Rockets place as much responsibility on Harden - the first player in National Basketball Association history to record at least 2,000 points, 900 assists and 600 rebounds in a season - as any player in the league. They tried to do everything they could to make it a great year.
The Spurs out-rebounded the Warriors 55-35 in that first meeting of the year and pulled down 21 offensive rebounds, the most achieved by any Warriors opponent in any game throughout the season.
"To me, it's a joke to get on him", Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said Friday.
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