The Houston Rockets came out of the gate against the San Antonio Spurs running and getting out on the break. The fourth game of the NBA’s Christmas Day slate of action started with the Rockets jumping out to a big lead in the first quarter and holding a 40-25 lead after the first 12 minutes of action.
Though the Rockets slowed down a bit and didn’t top 30 points in any of the three remaining quarters, it was their play in transition that really changed this game. The Spurs are a team that likes to play at a faster pace, but the pace that the Rockets were playing at honestly made San Antonio look slow and got them out of sync on a number of occasions.
With help from James Harden putting up 16 points and playing phenomenally in the fourth quarter, Houston was able to come out of San Antonio with a 111-98 win. Importantly, the Rockets seemed to find something that they’ve been on the verge of realizing all season.
Due to Omer Asik’s injury that has kept him out for quite a bit now, the Rockets have been giving most of the minutes at power forward to second-year forward Terrence Jones. On Wednesday, Jones was big for the Rockets as he put up 21 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks in 42 minutes while shooting 9-20 from the field.
What Jones brings to this team is exactly what they needed and something that Asik fails to give them. Jones is a strong body that can work in the post and on the glass, but he also has the quickness and shooting ability to stretch defenses and get out and run. There have been numerous times where the offense has looked its best with Jones on the floor, but it’s never looked quite as good as it did on Christmas.
On the contrary, the Spurs face a bit of a predicament, which this game brought to light. Playing a rotation of big men that, for the most part, consists of Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw, this team can struggle to adapt to a pace like the Rockets played at on Wednesday and can be exploited by stretch-fours, which Jones put on display.
Going forward, it’s pretty clear that these two teams are going to be two of the league’s best and two teams fighting near the top of the Western Conference. However, I think what became clear on Christmas Day is that the ceiling of the Rockets for when they’re clicking is probably higher than it is for this Spurs team. That’s not a knock on the Spurs—who have been great all season—at all, but is rather just a testament to how good this Houston team has the potential to be.