Recap: Rockets at Spurs, December 21, 2011

Wednesday December 21, 2011 11:24 PM

Spurs Sneak Past Rockets

San Antonio prevails 97-95, but Rockets get strong showing from second unit in preseason finale

Jason Friedman

HOUSTON - Saturday night the Rockets' starters showed off the sort of form that indicated a readiness for the regular season.

Four days later, it was the reserves' turn to show they’re not too far behind.

Houston capped off its 2-game, home-and-home preseason schedule with the Spurs Wednesday night in San Antonio and though the Rockets lost at the last second by a score of 97-95, there were plenty of reasons for the franchise to feel as if it’s as ready as can possibly be given the rather unique circumstances surrounding the start of this season.

The game began with the Rockets' starters receiving a sterner test than they did Saturday night, as San Antonio unleashed Tim Duncan and Tony Parker after giving both the night off during the two teams’ weekend matchup. Parker especially brought a different dimension to the Spurs’ attack, slicing and dicing his way through Houston’s defense to the tune of 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting and 4 assists in the first quarter alone.

Still, the Rockets’ starting five acquitted itself well, bouncing back from a rocky start to trim the Spurs’ lead to 6 by the end of the quarter. Jordan Hill’s early performance was encouraging too, as he built off his strong Saturday showing by holding his own while stepping up in class against Duncan and company.

The real story from the Rockets’ perspective was written in the second quarter, however, as Houston’s second unit gave fans a glimpse into the sort of depth the club is counting on to help carry them through the compressed regular season schedule to come. Rookie Marcus Morris caught fire right away, having seemingly shaken off whatever debut jitters he might have experienced during the Rockets’ preseason opener. The Kansas product showed off an impressive array of offensive abilities, raining in jumpers from all over the floor while mixing in the occasional nifty drive in from the wings as well. All told, Morris finished with 15 points in the quarter, knocking down six of his ten shots from the field.

His fellow super-subs, meanwhile, more than held up their end of the bargain. Courtney Lee was his usual rock-solid self, while Jonny Flynn dished out 5 dimes and Hasheem Thabeet chipped in with a pair of blocks and three boards in six productive minutes. The highlight of the half, however, came from Terrence Williams, who punctuated a Rockets fastbreak with a thunderous dunk, putting an exclamation point on a quarter which saw Houston outscore the Spurs 29-21.

The second half saw the Spurs regain control during the third quarter as their starting five saw much of the action while Rockets Head Coach Kevin McHale chose to mix and match his lineups a bit more. Duncan and Parker were practically flawless in their execution and it was their savvy, combined with a Houston shooting slump, that conspired to return the lead to the Spurs heading into the final frame.

But the Rockets’ bench mob simply used that deficit to fuel their collective mojo once more. Williams kick-started the club’s comeback effort with a dunk that was even nastier that his first half effort, throwing down a ridiculous windmill jam while being fouled for a 3-point play so sick it even brought the Spurs fans to their feet.

Then in the game’s final three minutes, Houston used a lineup featuring all three of its point guards – Jeremy Lin, Goran Dragic and Jonny Flynn – to spark a 10-0 run capped by Lin’s layup with 24 seconds left to tie the game at 95. But San Antonio showed it has some young talent too when rookie Kawhi Leonard drained a jumper – his only make of the game in five shots – right before the buzzer to give the Spurs a hard-fought win.

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