For the first few minutes of the Rockets Tuesday night tilt with the Spurs, Houston looked like they were falling in line with the rest of the city that was essentially shut down due to wintry conditions. But the Rockets heated up in the second half, shooting 58.1 percent, and outscored the Spurs 58-44 to claim the 97-90 victory.
For the third time in three meetings this season, Houston got the best of San Antonio. This time, Houston did it without leading scorer James Harden, who missed the game with a bruised left thumb.
Jeremy Lin started for Harden and was a huge catalyst for the Rockets excellent second-half performance. He finished with 18 points and eight assists, with half of his points coming in the fourth quarter.
"He's a naturally aggressive player, so he's needs to be aggressive," Rockets head coach Kevin McHale said. "I think Jeremy plays his best when he's attacking and we had some pace in this game, which really helps him. We had some pace in that third quarter and I thought he really caught a rhythm in that third quarter that was really good for our team."
Dwight Howard added 23 points and 16 rebounds, while connecting on 13-of-25 free throws, with the Spurs employing the Hack-a-Howard foul strategy to end the third quarter. The Rockets were able to extend their lead during that stretch with Howard making 10-of-16 free throws in the quarter.
The Rockets had fallen behind immediately, with the Spurs scoring the first six points of the game. Just a few minutes into the game, the Rockets were already down 15 points, 21-6. Terrence Jones helped steady things for the Rockets with 15 first-half points and Houston trailed by only seven at halftime, despite shooting under 35 percent.
They wasted no time in the third quarter letting the Spurs know they were ready to fight for this game, forcing a Spurs timeout just 39 seconds into the half after Houston scored five quick points. An 11-2 run to open the half gave the Rockets their first lead of the game at 50-48. Chandler Parsons scored six points over the next three and half minutes, the last of which came on a driving dunk, that put the Rockets up for good at 58-56.
"I think for us we hung around and we hung around and we realized at some point our shots were going to start to fall," Lin said. "We just knew that if we could hang around and wait until the tide turns, we would be alright."
"Our offense was still a little sluggish early, but we got it going in the second half," Parsons said. "I thought defensively, we really locked in well and everybody followed the scouting report to a 't.' It's more impressive to me that we can still win games against one of the better teams in the NBA when we don't shoot the ball well."
Houston made just 5-of-18 3-pointers in the game as they continue to struggle with their 3-point shooting as a team. But they held the Spurs down very impressively allowing them to connect on only 6-of-23 attempts (26.1 percent). San Antonio entered the game as the league's best 3-point shooting team at 40.3 percent.
Houston also held a sizable rebounding advantage, 55-39, and 19 of those 55 rebounds were offensive rebounds. Houston improves to 23-6 when out-rebounding their opponent. They also clinched the season series over the Spurs for the first time since the 1996-1997 regular season.