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Spurs spin out of control while trying to match red-hot Rockets

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Rockets stomp on the Spurs in Game 1 (1:31)

James Harden and the Rockets hand the Spurs a 27-point loss in San Antonio. Harden scores 20 points and dishes out 14 assists, while Trevor Ariza puts up 23 points of his own in Houston's 126-99 victory. (1:31)

SAN ANTONIO -- Spurs coach Gregg Popovich cracked jokes about wine and politics, in addition to ribbing reporters, insisting they should ask more questions.

Like his team, which had just suffered a 126-99 loss to the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals on Monday, Popovich seemed severely out of sorts in displaying a calm, even jovial demeanor, in the face of the worst loss in a series opener during his tenure.

"Sure, we competed. But I don't think we executed in a very wise manner," Popovich said. "We disobeyed a lot of basic basketball rules that they could take advantage of. If we're going to shoot quickly and shoot poorly, it's going to be a fast-break deal all night long, and they were better at that than we are. So we've got to play a lot smarter than what we saw tonight."

The Rockets knocked down 22 of 50 shots from 3-point range, setting NBA postseason records for the most 3s attempted and made against the Spurs. The 22 3-pointers from Houston registered as the second most that any team has hit in a playoff game.

"It's just one game, but at the same time, we have to understand what happened," said Spurs point guard Tony Parker. "But if they shoot the ball like that, we'll just have to shake their hands."

San Antonio only compounded its attempt at defending Houston's hot start by trying to match the Rocket's pace and scoring output with an icy night shooting. The Spurs' starters combined to connect on 13 of 42 shots, as the team made just 36.9 percent overall after taking 84 shots.

In a surprisingly calm and somewhat upbeat losing locker room, several Spurs slowly explained how their rush to match Houston's pace spun them out of contention in Game 1.

"Their confidence went way up and we started to get a little frantic," San Antonio reserve guard Manu Ginobili said. "It's a snowball once that happens. You start to push it and take some forced shots, and that only adds fuel to their fire. They started to run at us and get to the paint. We've got to be smarter, control the offense a little more, move it better. And then if we play them 5-on-5 every possession, it becomes a little easier. Today, up-tempo, they really killed us."

In a game the Rockets led by as many as 39 points, it's not as if the wheels fell off from the onset. San Antonio trailed by 11 at the end of the first quarter. From there, Houston opened up a 24-8 run, going up 27 points on a Trevor Ariza long-range connection that put the Rockets on top 58-31.

San Antonio shot 5-of-23 in the second quarter, including 1-of-8 from deep. Houston, meanwhile, made 42.9 percent from long range, as it outscored the Spurs 35-16 in the quarter.

"They came out hot tonight," Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard said. "We've got to do a better job defensively next game. Better offense. [We] kind of got stagnant a bit. They played a great game."

At the half, San Antonio trailed by 30 points, the largest deficit at intermission in Spurs postseason history. In fact, the 30 points marked the third-largest halftime deficit at home in a playoff game in the shot-clock era (starting in 1954-55), according to research from ESPN Stats & Information.

"One team played a lot better than the other, that's for sure, right," Spurs center Pau Gasol said. "They pretty much controlled the tempo of the game. They were getting great shots, great looks, looks that they wanted. They hit a lot of 3s. We just let them get a little bit of everything. [They] got in the lane. We got caught up playing their tempo in the first half, when they cracked the game open. They just played a little too comfortable. We've got to be more disruptive, we've got to get into them. We've got to run those shooters off the 3-point line. But at the same time, not allow James [Harden] to distribute the way he distributed tonight. We'll watch tape, we'll regroup and we better be ready in Game 2."

What San Antonio will see is how what they viewed as a distinct size advantage turned out to be anything but, as the supposedly more physical LaMarcus Aldridge and David Lee were outworked and overmatched in the paint by Ryan Anderson and Clint Capela.

The power forward and center combo of Anderson and Capela combined for 34 points on 12 of 22 shooting, to go with 19 rebounds and three blocks. Aldridge and Lee combined for 8 points on 2 of 9 shooting, with 13 rebounds and no blocks.

"We've got to get some scoring out of our big guys," Popovich said. "One might think that we have an advantage in that area, and that didn't work out for us at all. So that's got to be something that we get more out of, for sure."

Not just offensively, either.

Aldridge finished the game as a minus-36, the worst plus-minus by any Spurs player in a playoff game under Popovich. Aldridge scored just four points in Game 1, while allowing a team-worst 23 points as a primary defender, according to data from ESPN Stats & Information.

For some context here, go back to San Antonio's opening-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies, when Aldridge, as a primary defender, held the Grizzlies to 14 of 45 shooting in Games 1 and 2 for a total of 35 points. After that, Memphis connected on 25-of-50 for 70 points against Aldridge over the final four games of that series.

In Game 1 of this series, Houston's shooters hit 9-of-15 from the field, including 5-of-10 from 3-point range for 23 points when Aldridge served as the primary defender.

Of the Rockets' first 25 made field goals of the night, 22 came from either the restricted area or on a 3-pointer from the top the key, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Aldridge sat in the training room away from the team's main locker room for 54 minutes after the Spurs left the court, before finally addressing the thinned-out group of media that hadn't yet left for the night. Aldridge admitted the Spurs started to rush their offense in an attempt to try to match the Rockets' attack.

Remember, the Spurs opened up the playoffs against a physical, grind-it-out type of opponent in the Grizzlies -- a team that plays at an even slower pace than San Antonio. The home team collided this time with a bunch of thoroughbreds in Game 1 against the Rockets.

"They came out ready. They outplayed us tonight," Aldridge said. "They made a lot of tough shots. We made mistakes early, but they took advantage of it. Once they got an offensive rhythm, they were rolling. And we never really found ours -- and kind of played too fast at times."

As expected, Houston showed Aldridge plenty of baseline double-teams. But in this matchup, the power forward didn't spend long enough diagnosing what he was facing.

"I was trying to read it, and they bluffed me about two or three times to pass it. And they didn't double," said Aldridge, who acknowledged failing to take advantage of several mismatches. "I have to be more patient in trying to read that too. I definitely have to help out Kawhi. He did his part tonight. I have to take my time down there and make them pay. Once we started missing easy shots, I think after that, we all just tried to start searching and started playing too fast. We just kind of got frantic."

Leonard paced the Spurs with 21 points, while Parker and Jonathon Simmons finished as San Antonio's only other double-figures scorers with 11 apiece.

Curiously, the Spurs shot 1-of-12 (8.3 percent) on drives to the basket, the worst such field goal percentage in this postseason so far, according to ESPN Stats & Information data. The average field goal distance on those attempts was 3.4 feet.

"Am I going to worry about carryover, like we'll come and play just as badly again [in Game 2] or the guys won't show up?" Popovich asked. "There's not much that coaches don't worry about, but that's not one of them, in all honestly."