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Will The Rockets Stave Off Elimination in Game 6?
The Spurs should keep it close
By Liam Davis
All betting lines provided by Topbet.
Houston Rockets (-7) vs. San Antonio Spurs (+7)
Hitting five more three-pointers than the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 wasn't enough to pull the Houston Rockets to victory. They looked gassed toward the end of the night, cycling through infecund offensive sets that burned precious seconds off the shot clock without yielding high-quality looks. Fatigue especially killed them at the end of the fourth quarter and overtime, when it seemed as if they couldn't buy a timely enough bucket.
The Rockets no doubt have to be much better in Game 6—they were also outscored by 14 points in the paint—but they say the toughest game to win is a close-out tilt on the road. That's what the Spurs are facing, and they may have to face it without Kawhi Leonard suiting up.
Leonard injured his left ankle late in Game 5. The pain caused him to sit out the final part of the fourth quarter, in addition to all of overtime. Though he was clearly happy the Spurs pulled off the victory without him, he wasn't a happy camper about watching from the sidelines.
To that end, Leonard asserted, right then and there, that he was going to play in Game 6. Officially, though, the Spurs are listing him as questionable—which, when you think about it, really isn't that much of a surprise.
Head coach Gregg Popovich and the rest of the organization have always emphasized the big-picture outlook over everything else. Leonard is only 25 years old, with his whole career in front of him. If the Spurs think there is even a tiny chance he could injure himself any further, he won't be playing.
Regardless, even if Leonard does play, odds are he won't be at 100 percent. You aren't in pain enough to miss the tail end of a pivotal playoff game one night, then ready to tear it up 48 hours later. Injuries, however minor, don't work like that. Leonard will be feeling at least some, if not tons of, pain.
Whether or not he plays, though, the Spurs should still be able to keep this particular contest close. They were blasted by the Rockets in Games 3 and 4 with Leonard, but they've since made adjustments. Their pick-and-roll prevention has changed for the better, and they've found a defensive combination, in Danny Green and Jonathon Simmons, that works even when Leonard isn't on the floor.
Manu Ginobili is equally important to their survival. It's a big deal that LaMarcus Aldridge is being more aggressive on offense, but it's an even bigger deal that a 39-year-old Ginobili has this much left in his tank.
In Game 5, he was flying around the court, not necessarily hitting shots but dropping plenty of dimes and being a general nuisance on the defensive end. The Spurs have been statistically obliterated on the court in the postseason when Leonard isn't in the game, according to NBA.com, but Ginobili gives them a puncher's chance of forging a more independent identity.
And let's not forget the Rockets are coping with their own personnel issues. Nene is done for the postseason, which has basically forced them to run super small, with Ryan Anderson at the 5, to end quarters and halves. The Spurs, who continue to start a traditional frontcourt, have the muscle and girth and off-the-bounce playmaking to get him into foul trouble.
All in all, even if the Spurs don't have Leonard, they should, at minimum, still have the residual firepower necessary to give the Rockets a run for their money.
The Pick: San Antonio Spurs (+7)
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