Santa came and left a road win under the tree for Rocket fans tonight. Playing one of their best all around games of the year, the Rockets came out of the gate hot and finished the fourth quarter on a roll to beat the Spurs. It was close a couple of times, mainly in the second and third quarters when the Spurs turned up the heat with very physical basketball and some hard fouls. The refs let a lot go in this game and the Rockets met the Spurs challenge. That was playoff style basketball and Howard and Jones held it down in the middle. Jones came to Howard’s defense after one particularly hard foul and showed the league that the second year player would stand and fight.
Howard had a 15 and 20 night while Jones had 21 and 14. They were +23 and +14 respectively for their time tonight. Howard was smiling and talking about the coaches riding the big horse. He’s found his groove and that bodes well for the future and when we get everyone back and healthy. Jones held his end up in the middle and got a game high 42 minutes. Howard and Duncan had some intense battles for position in the paint and it was fun to see the Rockets with some power inside.
The Spurs had to settle for a lot of jump shots and could only hit 40% from the field. Amazingly, the Rockets defense looked good. Usually it’s the Spurs taking away their opponent’s strengths and forcing teams to take shots they didn’t want. When the game got physical, the Rockets were able to match the intensity and they really battled in the paint and rebounded hard.
The Rockets shot 50% from behind the arc as Parsons broke the game open in the first, shooting four for four from three point land. He ended up five for nine from behind the line. The Rockets scored a season tying best 40 points in the first quarter. The Rockets finished a stunning 52% from the field against a tough defensive Spurs team at home. Everyone shot the ball well except Casspi who was three for nine. There aren’t many teams who can beat the Rockets when they shoot the ball that well.
Harden was a welcome addition after missing the last two games. It was his shooting in the fourth quarter that sealed the deal and closed out the Spurs. It’s been a while since Harden has been able to shoulder the team and score clutch points. Tonight he was the man. He hit some tough shots and was taking it to the hole in a very physical game. He shot a perfect three for three from behind the line and ended up with a game high 28 points on 11 for 16 shooting. Welcome back James!
All of the starters ended up with double digit scoring but the bench struggled. Casspi and Brooks were a +/- of -11 and Garcia was a -13. Brooks did hit a couple of big threes, but the bench ended up shooting five for 14 and not getting a lot of time in. The big dogs played some heavy minutes. Even though Howard was in some foul trouble McHale kept him in and he ended up with five fouls.
Popovich says the key to winning is to play with physicality. If the Rockets can add this toughness to their repertoire they will have a much better chance of winning a playoff series this year. Pop gave up with 2:30 left in the game and subbed the scrubs. After the drubbing the Pacers gave us, this was a great Christmas present for Rockets fans. Beating the Spurs in front of a national audience sent a message to everyone watching. The Rockets can contend.