SAN ANTONIO -- From outside the locker room to inside, the Houston Rockets were honest about themselves.
No fight and poor preparation. A beating.
“They played a beautiful game of basketball and we watched it,” interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “And as it was halftime, you watched clips of it; the way they play the game is the proper way the game should be played. They share the ball, play with pace -- again, a learning point for us, and I hope we learned a lesson.”
Bickerstaff made note of how his team had played with such fight during a three-game win streak; you can even count the overtime loss at the Clippers as a game where the Rockets fought back from a second-half deficit.
No such fight on Wednesday night.
The Spurs were embarrassed by the defending champion Golden State Warriors on Monday night, a 120-90 trashing on the road, and somebody was going to pay.
“They were trying to teach somebody a lesson, and they taught us a lesson,” Bickerstaff said. “You knew they were going to be ready to go after the loss that they had. We had to be prepared to handle their first run and we came out, gave up 16 straight points, and I don’t think we stopped them on any possession to get to that 16 points. The game was claimed early, and we didn’t draw a line in the sand.
"We kept giving ground, giving ground, and you play a team like that that’s pissed off any way, they’re going to put it on you.”
With Bickerstaff’s dad, Bernie, watching from the press area and scouting for Cleveland, the Rockets shot a dismal 38.4 percent from the floor, gave up 50 points in the paint and made just 26.7 percent of their 3-point shots.
It was probably a head-scratcher for both son and father.
“Hopefully we’ll take this ass whupping and apply it to the next night,” J.B. Bickerstaff said.
The Rockets had won four of six, and it was a good brand of basketball in which they moved the ball. They saw improved playmaking from James Harden, as he didn’t have to shoulder the load of the scoring. Trevor Ariza was on a torrid shooting streak. And the team as a whole was playing with so much fun.
Josh Smith’s recent return made people smile around here with his ability to play multiple positions, pass and rebound.
Then came the Spurs game, and it got nasty.
It started before the game. Veteran Rockets guard Jason Terry said the preparation wasn’t there from the beginning.
"Improper preparation leads to poor performance, that’s what I learned,” Terry said. “The Five Ps when I was at school in Arizona. The way we prepared this morning was not conducive to us being able to go out here and have a good night, not against a team that’s undefeated at home. You may beat some other team, but not like a team like San Antonio. We’ll learn from it and get better.”
Bickerstaff said he was surprised by the lack of fight in his group and that the team let the Spurs run freely. The Spurs shot 55.6 percent from the floor and saw LaMarcus Aldridge respond from his lackluster efforts at Golden State to score a game-high 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting. He also had 10 rebounds and was plus-23 in the box.
The Rockets’ best player, Harden, hit half of his 10 shots, had five turnovers and finished with 20 points.
Dwight Howard, in his return from a three-game absence due to a sprained left ankle, didn’t have his normal explosiveness and ended the night with 13 points on five shots and eight boards.
Smith, the mayor around these parts for his fine intangibles during the three-game win streak that ended in San Antonio, is producing some ugly shooting numbers: He has made just three of 20 three-point field goals and is 13-for-46 from the field overall in his four games since his return.
Smith is a good passer and rebounder, who is not afraid to get physical, yet, like the rest of his teammates on Wednesday night, that portion of his game was lacking.
The lack of preparation and fight is what’s most surprising to hear from the Rockets, given the importance of a game like this.
“Yeah, but it’s a long season,” Harden said. “A lot of times it’s not going to be our night and obviously to be a really good team you have to be prepared from the beginning of the game, and we made some pushes, here and there. Just wasn’t enough. We can’t let them get off to a good start.”