The Houston Rockets began the post-James Harden era Thursday night, but the team may have moved on in earnest before the guard's trade to the Brooklyn Nets had even been completed.
According to small forward Jae'Sean Tate, the Rockets held a team meeting following Tuesday's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers—after which Harden told reporters his situation in Houston couldn't be fixed—and focused on accountability.
"We drew the line there," Tate told reporters. "Everybody has so much to prove."
Tate led by example Thursday, sinking a three-pointer with one minute, 19 seconds left in regulation to take a four-point lead over the San Antonio Spurs. The Rockets won 109-105.
Tate finished the night with an impressive 13 points, 10 assists and five rebounds, while center Christian Wood continued his ascent with 27 points and 15 boards.
"Everybody on this team, especially with [Victor Oladipo] coming in, has a lot to prove," Wood said on the TNT broadcast after the win. "And, you know, we're all dogs out there."
Thursday proved the players are as committed as ever. With John Wall (knee soreness) and Eric Gordon (leg tightness) unavailable, a slimmed-down rotation held on against a solid Spurs team hunting for an easy win.
The entire Rockets bench seemed to breathe a massive sigh of relief as they celebrated the victory. Thursday may have been the start of a new era for the franchise, but Houston's mindset changed the day Harden forced his way out of town. Now there's more to prove—and celebrate—than ever.
"Spirit is something I believe a lot in and talk a lot about," head coach Stephen Silas said. "We had spirit tonight."