SAN ANTONIO — Houston’s first game without James Harden went better than anyone could have expected.
Christian Wood had 27 points and 15 rebounds, and the Rockets rallied to beat the San Antonio Spurs 109-105 on Thursday night in their first game since trading away the franchise cornerstone.
“It was fun. It was really cool stuff,” Houston’s first-year coach Stephen Silas said.
Sterling Brown, who took Harden’s spot in the starting lineup, had 23 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 36 minutes. Jae’Sean Tate added 13 points, 10 assists and five rebounds.
San Antonio forward Keldon Johnson had a career-high 29 points and Lonnie Walker IV added 16 points while tying a career-high with four 3-pointers.
Houston sent Harden to the Brooklyn Nets in a four-team blockbuster trade on Wednesday. Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum and Rodions Kurucs, who the Rockets acquired along with numerous draft picks and draft swaps for Harden, are not with the team yet.
It was Houston’s first game without Harden since 2012, when Oklahoma City traded its young guard to the Rockets primarily due to salary cap constraints.
Harden remained publicly quiet through months of rumours about his unhappiness with the Rockets, but he broke that silence following a second blowout loss to the Lakers on Tuesday. He bluntly said the Rockets were “just not good enough” and that he did not believe the situation could be fixed.
Houston showed otherwise, at least in their first opportunity to do so.
“We had a team meeting after that last game against the Lakers and we drew the line there,” Tate said. “Everybody has so much to prove.”
The Rockets were also without John Wall and Eric Gordon due to injuries. The upheaval led to more minutes for the remaining roster, and they took advantage of it.
“Spirit is something I believe a lot in and talk a lot about,” Silas said. “We had spirit tonight.”
Seven players scored at least nine points, with Mason Jones scoring a career-high nine points.
The Rockets staged a 15-2 run to lead 105-101 with 1:46 left.
“It’s got nothing to do with defence (or) offence,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of the late swoon. “It has to do with between the ears and being ready to play. And we had four or five guys who were out to lunch.”
Brown had a wild, overhead shot land on the top of the backboard for an out-of-bounds call with 9.5 seconds remaining. San Antonio veteran DeMar DeRozan missed a 15-footer with 0.4 seconds left, and the Spurs fouled P.J. Tucker, who made two free throws to seal it.
DeRozan had 13 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his return from a two-game absence due to personal reasons.
The teams meet again Saturday at the AT&T Center in the finale of a two-game set in San Antonio.
Rockets: Wall missed the game with a sore left knee. ... Gordon was running and shooting 3-pointers prior to game but was ruled out due to tightness in his lower left leg. ... Wood was held to five points in the second quarter, shooting 2 for 7, after collecting 10 points in the opening quarter.
Spurs: San Antonio is 6-3 with LaMarcus Aldridge in the lineup. The Spurs lost all three games Aldridge sat out with a sore left knee. He had 11 points Thursday. ... Walker has made 25 of 48 3-pointers in 12 games this season after going 41 of 101 to set career highs last season. He is shooting 40% on 3s in his career. ... Johnson has scored at 25 points twice this season, which is the fourth most through first 30 career games in Spurs’ history. David Robinson leads the list with 12.
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