Progress for the Rockets on Saturday came via an evenly matched third quarter on the road in San Antonio, an incremental step that represented something on which Houston might be able to build.
Dominated by the Spurs in the third quarter in each of their two previous meetings this season, Houston outpaced San Antonio 25-22 in the third quarter on Saturday en route to a 122-110 victory. The win snapped its 11-game skid and set the table for the Rockets to square the season series when the teams meet again in Houston on Sunday.
The Spurs outscored the Rockets 71-37 in the third quarter while earning a pair of victories in January and trailed by just two points entering the third of their third meeting this season despite yielding 41 points in the second.
Houston did not cough up the advantage this time, twice extending its lead to double digits before carrying a 95-90 lead into the fourth. Early in that final frame, the Rockets reeled off a 12-4 rally that enabled them to seize control for good, doing so behind their bench brigade.
The Rockets received 57 points from their bench, including a career-high-tying 20 points from rookie Tari Eason, who added five rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks to his bloated stat line. Usman Garuba scored 11 points off the bench on 3-for-3 3-point shooting, while Josh Christopher added 14 points and four assists over 19 impactful minutes in reserve.
The well-rounded effort was instrumental for a Rockets team that played without Jae'Sean Tate and with a hobbled Kevin Porter Jr., who tallied 11 points, six rebounds and five assists in just his second game back following a 20-game absence related to an issue with his left big toe.
"It started in practice (Friday). The second unit was great," Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. "Everybody contributed. It was a good team win. We needed everybody and everybody contributed.
"For us to have 26 assists and eight guys in double figures is important, but the defensive effort with the second group with all the switching and effort -- getting in the passing lanes so we can run and play to our strengths -- that's it. That's it right there."
The Rockets' transition offense was fueled by 15 Spurs turnovers converted into 25 points. Houston tallied 30 fast-break points and 74 points in the paint to offset the Spurs' plus-21 scoring margin on 3-pointers keyed by the sharpshooting of Devonte' Graham, whose team-high 28 points included 7-of-12 shooting from behind the arc.
The Spurs received 14 points apiece from Zach Collins, who added 10 rebounds, and rookie Jeremy Sochan, but sorely missed Keldon Johnson (foot) and Devin Vassell, who returned from a two-month injury absence against the Indiana Pacers on Thursday but sat out Saturday.
Johnson and Vassell are averaging a combined 41.2 points per game and both could return to play on Sunday, which would certainly provide the Spurs a boost in their pursuit of a season series victory over Houston.
--Field Level Media