The Houston Rockets took care of business at home tonight against a shorthanded San Antonio Spurs team, using a big third quarter by James Harden to build a 26-point lead that eventually settled into a 109-93 Rockets victory.
Harden scored 16 of his 28 points in the third quarter, after the Rockets went into the break with 54-43 lead, and his performance broke the game wide open for Houston, as the Rockets led 88-67 after three quarters.
Harden then sat out the entire fourth quarter, and head coach Mike D’Antoni gave some extended run to Joe Johnson and Gerald Green, along with some minutes for Tarik Black, who allowed the Spurs to make the final score somewhat respectable despite being down big for large chunks of the game.
Harden finished with 6 rebounds and 6 assists to go with his game-leading 28 points, and he played just 29 minutes, a welcome sight after he sat out Sunday’s victory over the Dallas Mavericks with a sore knee. It was good to see his night end early.
The Rockets also got 18 points and 9 assists from Chris Paul, as he shot 8-11 from the field in just 23 minutes of court time. He led runs in both the first and second halves, sparking a 9-0 flash in the second quarter that took control of a tight first-half game, and his fourth-quarter minutes put the game away before he too took the rest of the night off.
In addition to Harden and Paul, the Rockets also got 13 points and 9 rebounds from Clint Capela, the majority coming in the first half, and they also got 15 points from Trevor Ariza and 14 from Gerald Green. Luc Mbah a Moute was a perfect 4-4 shooting from the field for 9 points, and he, as usual, helped spearhead the Houston defense.
The Rockets held the Spurs to just 40 percent shooting from the field on the night, and they forced 13 turnovers in a very tight defensive performance. The Spurs were without several of their big guns, however, as they were missing LaMarcus Aldridge, Manu Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard, so that helped Houston’s defensive numbers as well.
The Spurs were led by Bryn Forbes and Derrick White with 14 points apiece. They each received extended minutes, as Gregg Popovich was fed up with his starters just five minutes into the first quarter, benching them all. Pop played all 13 active guys tonight, and all but one received double-digit minutes. That’s because the Rockets dominated almost any combination he rolled with on the evening.
The Spurs now fall to tenth place in the Western Conference and out of the playoffs with the defeat. A strange place to find San Antonio, indeed. They’re now just 37-30.
The Rockets, on the other hand, move to 53-14 with the win and are a full two games in front of the Golden State Warriors for the No. 1 seed. They’ll be back in action Thursday night at home against the Los Angeles Clippers.