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Rebounding, defense and the bench key Rockets Christmas win

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The Rockets used measures of toughness to beat the second-best team in the West to give us all a happy holiday.

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockets pull a game over .500 again after a hard fought win over the Spurs, 88-84. The much-needed win comes a game after a sad loss to the Magic.

It was not the prettiest of wins, and the film won't be submitted to the Hall of Fame, but it was gutsy, full of defense and, if you are a Rockets fan, this win gives you a lot of hope going forward.

In the final two quarters, the Rockets outscored the Spurs by nine points, and that was enough to lock up the win against a very good Spurs team.

Below are three takeaways from the Rockets' BIG™ win over the Spurs.

Excellent rebounding, especially in the first half

How does a team defeat the Spurs? It's a question a lot of teams have asked over the years even the Rockets. Beating the Spurs involves playing defense, hitting shots, and only allowing the Spurs one possession.

The Rockets on Friday did two-and-a-half of those. They hit shots when they needed to, played defense, and only gave the current Western Conference two-seed one shot per possession for big chunks of the game.

Clint Capela and Dwight Howard combined to snag 12 rebounds in the first half, including 5 offensive rebounds. The Rockets bigs out-muscled the Spurs on the glass during the first half.

The Rockets only shot 37.5 percent in the half, but limiting the Spurs' second chances and then giving themselves extra looks at the rim was a big reason the Rockets were only down five points at the half.

The defense was big throughout

As mentioned earlier, playing defense is a key part of beating the Spurs and the Rockets had it working all night long. They were able to hold the Spurs to only 40.9 percent shooting and 84 points overall. Yes, the Spurs did miss some makable wide-open shots, but saying that really doesn't give enough credit to the Rockets.

The Rockets got back in transition, closed out on shots, denied easy access to the paint, rotated correctly and quickly when switching, and put bodies on guys. It wasn't just a small stretch. The Rockets gave a strong defensive effort from tipoff all the way to the final whistle.

The work on the defensive end against the Spurs is something Houston should be very proud of.

The Rockets proved everybody wrong

Yesterday, I think even the most optimistic Rockets fans said to themselves, "I'll be OK with a loss, just don't get blown out." The Spurs picked up only their second loss in the month of December last night. They had not just been beating teams left and right, but destroying them.

It is hard to single any one player out that was really key in the win. Everybody deserves a game ball for the performance given Friday night.

James Harden wasn't able to get anything going in the first half , only able to score two points and being limited to three shots. The Spurs defense did a great job of denying him the ball, and when he was able to get the ball, they were able to make him give it up.

While Harden struggled in the first half, the bench picked him up. When Harden got going in the second half, the bench stayed strong alongside him. Terrence Jones, Ty Lawson, and Jason Terry played big roles for the Rockets off the bench. All night long, Jones provided scoring and defensive energy. Lawson, for the second game in a row, was engaged and a playmaker (had 8 assists in 18 minutes), and Terry does what he does: hit big shots.

Harden did finally come alive in the second half, scoring 18 points, which was just enough to overtake the Spurs and pull off the win.

Josh Reese