Dwight Howard dominated the post early, James Harden started raining shots late and the Houston Rockets got a 111-98 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Christmas Day. Playing one of the league's top teams away from home, Kevin McHale's team came through with a mostly-fantastic performance to move to 19-11 this season.
The Rockets set the tone in this one early, jumping out to a 4-0 lead before Gregg Popovich quickly called his first timeout of the game. That didn't change the Spurs' fortunes much, as Houston eventually expanded its lead to 18 points before the home team started chipping away.
That big deficit was clearly difficult for the Spurs to overcome. The Rockets led by nine points at halftime, quickly expanded that to 13 early in the third quarter, and never trailed by fewer than three points in the second half. For every rally San Antonio mustered, Houston responded with a big shot from one of its many offensive weapons.
At one point in the fourth quarter, Harden scored 11 consecutive points for the Rockets. Many of his 28 points came on absurd step-back jumpers and casual three-pointers, the kind of stuff that makes him one of the most devastating perimeters scorers in the league.
Meanwhile, Howard imposed his presence quickly, grabbing 13 rebounds in 18 minutes of first-half play. His offensive performance was more a mixed bag -- four of Houston's seven turnovers in the first half came from the center -- but he still notched a double-double before halftime on his way to 15 points, 20 rebounds and three assists in 35 minutes. He loves Christmas:
The Spurs got a throwback performance from Manu Ginobili, who delivered 22 points on 8-of-17 shooting in 25 minutes, but San Antonio shot just 41 percent as a team. Tony Parker scored six points on 3-of-11 shooting and Tim Duncan similarly struggled with a 4-of-12 effort. Duncan still filled up the box score, though, with 11 points, 14 rebounds, six blocks and five assists.
This didn't prove particularly important in the end, but it goes without saying that Houston struggled with free throws on Christmas. While the Rockets shot 50 percent from three and 52 percent overall, they were just 9-of-18 from the charity stripe on a day devoted to giving. Even the team's non-Howard shooters had issues, as Harden and Jeremy Lin were a combined 5-of-10.
Chandler Parsons (21 points, six rebounds, five assists) and Terrence Jones (21 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks) also had performances worth noting for Houston. All things considered, getting such a strong team-wide effort against an elite team is an awfully good sign.
For the Spurs, this is just the fourth home loss of the season. However, the night continues an ongoing theme of struggles against elite Western teams for San Antonio, but we're still months away from the postseason. If any team can get things figured out by then, it's a Popovich-led Spurs squad.
So it's a Merry Christmas for the Rockets, and a not-so-merry one for the Spurs. At least this was a pretty entertaining game as the holiday winds down.