The Houston Rockets struggled in the first half without superstar James Harden, but used a strong third quarter to get back into the game and eventually defeat the San Antonio Spurs, 97-90, at Toyota Center on Tuesday night.
Dwight Howard was the catalyst for the Rockets and finished with 23 points and 16 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive glass. Though he was just 5-of-15 from the field, he went to the line 25 times and converted 13. Terrence Jones flirted with a double-double of his own and poured in 21 points on an efficient 9-of-12 shooting and added nine assists, though he only connected on 3-of-8 from the charity stripe.
The first half saw the Rockets struggle without Harden's scoring output, and they collectively shot just 34 percent from the field, including 27 percent from the three-point line. They turned it around immediately in the second half and went on a scoring barrage, totaling 33 points in the third quarter, just four fewer than they scored in the first two frames combined.
Howard came alive in the third quarter, playing all 12 minutes, getting to the free throw line a whopping 16 times and connecting on 10 attempts. He put a stamp on Houston's strong effort in the third by scoring 12 of his 23 and adding five rebounds.
The Spurs had a case of insult to injury when Manu Ginobili exited the loss with what Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News labeled left hamstring tightness. That means the Spurs may be without their veteran guard for a stretch of games moving forward.
The Rockets took advantage of the Spurs' depleted front line, as they were missing Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter, and dominated the paint by winning the rebounding margin 55-39, scoring 48 points in the paint to the Spurs' 40 and converting 13 second chance points.
San Antonio led by as many as 15 points but came crashing back to Earth in the third quarter by shooting a paltry 32 percent from the field and failing to connect on any of its three-point attempts, going 0-for-3.
There won't be any time for the hobbled Spurs to recuperate as they travel back home to face the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday. The Rockets will complete their second leg of a Texas two-step without rest when they travel North to face the Dallas Mavericks on the same day.