Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs: Postgame Grades and Analysis

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistDecember 26, 2013

Dec 25, 2013; San Antonio, TX, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (right) is defended by San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (left) during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Rockets (19-11) defeated the San Antonio Spurs (22-7) for the second time this season, 111-98, in a Southwest Division showdown. 

All five Rockets starters scored in double figures on a night when the team collectively shot 52.3 percent shooting from the field and a staggering 50 percent shooting from three. James Harden led the Rockets with 28 points on 11-of-16 shooting.

The Spurs weren't able to replicate Houston's offensive consistency, as they shot just 40.7 percent from the field and 25 percent from beyond the arc in just their fourth home loss. Houston is now responsible for half of them.  

Head coach Gregg Popovich called it an "embarrassing performance," according to 1250 ESPN San Antonio's Ari Temkin

With the win, the Rockets became the fourth road team through four games to capture a victory on Christmas Day. 

Key Players

James Harden, Houston Rockets, Shooting Guard

After missing two straight games due to a sprained ankle, Harden returned to the starting lineup on Wednesday night. 

The good news for the Rockets was that Harden showed no ill effects from the nagging injury he suffered back on Dec. 15 and posted a final line of 28 points (11-of-16 shooting), six assists and six rebounds in 42 minutes. 

A clutch fourth-quarter performance that saw Harden score 11 straight points helped seal the deal for Houston. 

Grade: A+

Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets, Center

In a 40-point first quarter that saw the Rockets shoot 8-of-12 in the paint, Dwight Howard worked his way toward a double-double with six points and seven boards in his first nine minutes on the floor. 

Matched up against the frontcourt pairing of Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, Howard flashed impressive form, using both hands to score out of the post while effectively diving to the basket off of pick-and-rolls. 

Howard's night can be chalked up as a major success as he compiled 15 points, 20 rebounds and two blocks while shooting 7-of-12 from the field. He posted 11 points and 13 boards in the first half and committed a game-high five turnovers in the win. 

December continues to be Howard's month. He entered the night averaging 22.6 points and 15.1 boards over his past 10 games and appears to have a real shot at capturing Player of the Month honors. 

Grade: A+

Dec 25, 2013; San Antonio, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons (25) reacts after a shot during the first half against the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Chandler Parsons, Houston Rockets, Small Forward

Houston was scalding hot in the game's opening quarter, and one reason was the shooting of Chandler Parsons.

It took the Rockets' small forward just seven minutes to reach double figures, as he hit on his first four shots, three of which came from beyond the arc.

In total, Parsons dropped in 14 points and four threes in the first quarter, which was incredibly impressive considering his career high for threes in a game entering the night was six.

He finished the game with 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting (5-of-9 from three), six rebounds and six assists.   

Grade: A

Jeremy Lin, Houston Rockets, Point Guard

Filling in as the Rockets' starting point guard in place of the injured Patrick Beverley, Jeremy Lin moved fluidly from the opening jump. 

And while he wasn't filling up the scoring column like Parsons, Lin was facilitating all over the court, and finished the night with a team-high eight assists in 34 minutes. He also scored 13 points on 50 percent shooting and posted a game-high mark of plus-24 in the plus/minus. 

Lin's combination of inside and outside scoring capabilities continues to be invaluable to the Rockets, but it was his defense on Tony Parker that may have been the difference. 

Grade: A-

Terrence Jones, Houston Rockets, Power Forward

Lost in the midst of a first half in which the Rockets shot 55.8 percent from the field was a superb performance from Terrence Jones. 

While the focus will be on Howard's dominance in the post and Parsons' efficient shooting from deep, Jones dropped in nine points, grabbed four boards and blocked a shot over the game's first 24 minutes. His performance on the break contributed to 17 Houston points in transition on the evening. 

The former Kentucky Wildcat managed 21 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks on a night when Houston's starters dominated. 

Grade: A

Aaron Brooks, Houston Rockets, Sixth Man

While Houston's starters will receive the lion's share of the credit for the team's offensive outburst against the league's second-best defense (per 100 possessions), Aaron Brooks was one of the few bench bodies who made any sort of impact on Wednesday. 

In 14 minutes off the bench, Brooks contributed six points on 2-of-5 shooting and displayed a nice stroke from beyond on two occasions. 

Grade: C

Bench, Houston Rockets

A poor defensive showing from Houston's second unit was the reason the Spurs were able to string together runs at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters, and they didn't offer much else on the offensive end. 

Aside from Brooks, Omri Casspi was the only source of offense off the bench, as he scored seven points on 3-of-9 shooting. Francisco Garcia didn't attempt a shot in 14 minutes. 

Grade: D

Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs, Point Guard

The biggest problem for San Antonio on Wednesday night was the lack of offensive efficiency, and that started with Tony Parker.

San Antonio's point man shot 3-of-11 from the field and scored a season-low six points while dishing out just four assists and failed to take advantage of a Houston team that was missing its best perimeter defender in Beverley.

The Spurs offense noticeably lacked flow throughout, and it's easy to point to Parker's struggles as the primary cause. 

Grade: F

Dec 25, 2013; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) dunks as Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (left) looks on during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs, Power Forward

Howard's dominance in the early going seemed to wake Duncan up a bit. 

After a putrid effort from all players not named Manu Ginobili in the first quarter, Duncan responded and started to trade figurative jabs with Howard in the post, and he finished a second quarter in which the Spurs outscored the Rockets by six with seven points and eight boards. 

It wasn't always pretty, but Duncan scrapped his way to a double-double with 11 points (4-of-12 shooting) and 14 rebounds.

Duncan's final line was incredibly impressive when you consider that he fell four steals shy of posting a five-by-five, as he blocked six shots and dished out five assists in a complete effort on both ends of the floor. 

Grade: A

Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs, Sixth Man

Popovich pulled Kawhi Leonard for Ginobili less than two minutes into this one, and boy was it a good call.

Ginobili was the only thing San Antonio had going for it early on, as he scored the team's first nine points as the Spurs were outscored 27-11 over the game's first five minutes.

In 25 minutes, Ginobili finished with 22 points on 8-of-17 shooting (3-of-7 from three), three rebounds and an assist. He fell two points shy of tying his season high. 

Grade: A-

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs, Small Forward

Although Popovich sat him for a brief moment early for instructional purposes, Leonard rebounded in the second half when the Spurs started to attack Harden on the defensive end.  

With Leonard a more physically imposing presence than the Bearded One, San Antonio sought to run a good deal of the offense through Leonard in the third quarter. The plan worked, as the Spurs cut Houston's lead to two at one point in the third as Leonard scored nine points in the period. 

He finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. 

Grade: B-

Marco Belinelli, San Antonio Spurs, Shooting Guard

Starting his third game in a row in place of the struggling Danny Green, Marco Belinelli helped spark a sputtering Spurs offense during a 10-2 run to open the second quarter, which whittled the Rockets' lead from 15 points down to eight in less than four minutes. 

One of the league's hottest three-point shooters finished the night with nine points (4-of-8 shooting, 1-of-3 shooting from three). 

And while his offensive showing was vital to keeping San Antonio in the game early, Belinelli showed no signs of life when matched up against Parsons on the defensive end. 

Grade: C-

Tiago Splitter, San Antonio Spurs, Center

Nothing superlative here.

Splitter didn't look sharp on either end of the floor and finished with six points, four rebounds and two blocks on a night when the Rockets' frontcourt was humming.  

Grade: D

Bench, San Antonio Spurs

Popovich called upon his second unit to contribute early and often, and they looked far better than the team's starters did in the first half. 

The most significant contributors off the bench aside from Ginobili were Patty Mills (nine points) and Green (six points, 4-of-5 from the free-throw line), while Boris Diaw added four points and five rebounds and provided some reliable defense. 

Grade: B+

What's Next? 

The Spurs will cap off the second night of a back-to-back with an away game against the Dallas Mavericks while the Houston Rockets will host the Memphis Grizzlies in a nationally televised showdown on TNT. 


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