The Houston Rockets and host San Antonio Spurs square off for the second time in three days Saturday, with the Rockets looking to build on their first road win of the season.
The Rockets needed just nine angry, intense players -- none of them named James Harden or John Wall -- to beat San Antonio109-105 on Thursday in their first game since they traded Harden to Brooklyn in a blockbuster four-team deal.
That trade, which is still being finalized, will eventually net Houston Victor Oladipo (from Indiana), Dante Exum (from Cleveland) and Rodions Kurucs (from Brooklyn), but none were in uniform on Thursday, forcing Houston to field a makeshift lineup that more than held its own.
"It's something I believe a lot and talk a lot about," Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. "We had spirit (Thursday) where the guys were pulling for each other, they were resilient. Even when we got down a little bit ... and knowing this is a really good team we were playing, everybody was engaged."
Instead, it was Christian Wood who racked up 27 points and grabbed 15 rebounds for Houston, with Sterling Brown adding a season-high 23 points.
Jae'Sean Tate, in the first start of his career, had 13 points and 10 assists, the most for a Rockets rookie since Steve Francis in 1999-2000, and P.J. Tucker scored 10 for a Houston team that Harden said was just "not good enough" to win, with or without him.
Houston snapped a two-game losing streak at the expense of it Lone Star State rivals.
"The Rockets had something to prove, and they played like it," Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV said. "They felt disrespected. That energy and animosity was built up inside of them. They were definitely ready to play."
The Rockets were also without Wall and Eric Gordon (both with minor leg injuries), and Danuel House Jr. (COVID-19 protocol). All three will be game-time decisions for Saturday's follow-up contest.
Conversely, San Antonio was not ready, according to coach Gregg Popovich. The Spurs led by nine points with four and half minutes to play but were outscored 19-6 down the stretch.
"It's got nothing to do with defense, offense -- it has to do with between the ears, being ready to play," Popovich said. "We had four or five guys who were out to lunch."
The Spurs' loss wasted a career-high 29 points from Keldon Johnson.
Walker added 16, DeMar DeRozan had 13 points, Devin Vassell hit for 12, LaMarcus Aldridge had 11 points, and Dejounte Murray ended up with 10 for San Antonio.
DeRozan missed the previous two games to tend to his ill father in Los Angeles and was a slow starter Thursday, with just three points heading into the fourth quarter. He hit a series of big shots in the final period but rimmed out a 15-footer in the final seconds that would have tied the game.
--Field Level Media