That was fun, wasn't it?
That win looks like the win over the Nets now.
In what can only be described as incredible or a similar synonym, the Rockets defeated the San Antonio Spurs 112-106 tonight, handing the Spurs their first loss at the AT&T Center this season. There were so many storylines here, so let's get to it.
Hot Shooting Early
The Rockets couldn't seem to miss in the early going. They started 12-20 from the three-point line and had Rockets fans finally believing that the Rockets could hang with the big boys. The Rockets built a 23-point lead midway through the second quarter, but at no point did it seem like the Spurs would go away. Great teams don't and the Spurs weathered one heck of a storm and pulled the lead down to 11 heading into halftime.
That 12-20 shooting? The Rockets would go 1-10 the rest of the way. But man that one was incredible. We'll get to that.
Bench Play: Good When You Don't Need It, Bad When You Do
The Rockets bench took a slim lead in the second quarter and extended it to that monstrous 23-point cushion. However, the same players allowed the Spurs to claw their way back in the third quarter when McHale desperately needed them to stem the tide. The bench shot a combined 2-10 from three and Aaron Brooks (he of the renaissance career season) went 1-8 and seemed to be forcing threes instead of creating like he had in the second quarter.
Omri Casspi finished 4-8, but only Omer Asik finished with a +/- from the bench brigade. He was +1. Don't get me wrong: staying even with the Spurs bench is a real moral victory, and it gave the Rockets a chance.
Oh Yeah, The Rockets Won
Now that we're done with the negatives, let's get to the good stuff.
First off, the Rockets did not seem like they weren't big enough for the moment. Last year, the Rockets had a few games where they seemed to be intimidated by the situation and dug themselves an early hole. In this one, the Rockets played at their preferred pace since the Spurs also enjoy an uptempo style. Instead of letting the Spurs crowd get behind their team early, the Rockets punched the Spurs in the mouth and built a 6-point lead after the opening frame.
After the Rockets built their lead, Tony Parker remembered that he could take control of a game and did just that. He went on a personal 10-0 run and the Spurs used that momentum out of the half to claw back into the game.
Rockets Stepping Up
Terrence Jones hasn't played like a seldom-used second year player in the last few weeks, and tonight was no different. Basketball Jones had his hands all over this one, scoring 10 points and grabbing an astounding 16 rebounds. This kid is for real, folks.
Dwight Howard probably has nightmares about the Spurs. Not only did they knock him out of the playoffs last year, but they made him look awful in most of their matchups. Howard got some revenge tonight, going for 13/11 and getting the all-important W.
Chandler Parsons was an absolute monster, scoring 25 points and picking up 5 assists in the process. A lot of people consider Kawhi Leonard the better player, but Parsons made his case tonight. Leonard finished with 6/4 and never really got going on offense.
That Fourth Quarter
I've been saving this for the end.
Year after year, we see the Spurs beat teams by outclassing them in the fourth period. Their experience leads to few lapses, and their intimacy with each other allows them to run a real offense late in the game. But tonight, it was Marco Belinelli who started the fourth with a 10-2 run to give the Spurs a 90-85 lead.
Instead of dying like countless other Houston teams have done in this situation (including a few times this season already), the Rockets refused to die and forced the Spurs to have to kill them.
The Spurs couldn't get in the kill shot because the Rockets' defense was absolutely fantastic in the last 8 minutes. San Antonio still scored, but the Rockets never went away. There were a few moments that the Rockets could have folded. Here are some:
The Rockets went on a 5-0 run to take a 94-92 lead after that.
3:05 left in the 4th: Tony Parker misses a forced turnaround floater, but gets bailed out by a Dwight Howard goaltend. Game tied at 96.
3:02 left in the 4th: The Spurs go to the Hack-A-Dwight. Howard went 4-6 in these situations, and Harden used a head's up play to get three free throws on one hack attempt.
2:41 left in the 4th: Parker makes a circus layup to give the Spurs a 98-97 lead.
2:24 left in the 4th: Tim Duncan makes a layup and gets fouled to give the Spurs a 101-99 lead. If you believe in Lawler's Law, this is where the Rockets were statistically most likely to lose.
1:46 left in the 4th: Manu Ginobili goes hero-ball and drills a 3-pointer to give the Spurs a 104-102 lead.
1:22 left in the 4th: Parker hits yet another layup and the Spurs take their biggest lead of the fourth quarter, going up 106-103. For all intents and purposes, the Spurs had done their work were primed to walk away with the win.
They wouldn't score again.
The most incredible sequence down the stretch occurred on the next possession for the Rockets. Down 3, Parsons missed a three-pointer, but Dwight Howard tipped the rebound to himself and found James Harden.
Remember, the Spurs are the number one team in defensive rebounding percentage. They give up the fewest offensive rebounds in the league. That Dwight grabbed that board is a mini-miracle in itself.
Harden ducked under a fly-by and drilled a three-pointer to tie the game, forcing Bill Worrell to need a change of clothes. Okay, it was me. But still.
Then with the game tied, Parker barely missed a layup, leading to a run-out by Harden. Instead of making the contested layup like we've seen a million times before, Harden blew it. However, the Rockets grabbed yet another offensive rebound, this time in the form of a tip-in by Patrick Beverley. On the next possession, Manu would miss a three and Parsons would dunk on a fast-break.
All-in-all, the Rockets closed on a 9-0 run to beat the Spurs for the first time in San Antonio in their last 8 tries.
It wouldn't be a major Rockets victory without some kind of damper. Tonight, that came in the form of injuries. The Rockets are already missing Jeremy Lin and Greg Smith. But Parsons came down after his dunk with back spasms, and Francisco Garcia also went down on the following play after coming on for Parsons. Hopefully, both players will be okay for the Rockets' next game, which is Monday in Utah.
The Rockets closed out the month with a 5-0 record, including two huge wins over the Grizzlies and Spurs after trailing in the fourth quarter of both games. That's not a bad way to bounce back from a heartbreaking loss to the Mavericks, right?
The Rockets absolutely fought and scrapped in the fourth quarter to get a win they had already blown. These wins are key for a young team trying to establish an identity in the loaded Western Conference.
Enjoy this one, folks. You deserve it.