Mar 5, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green (4) dunks against the San Antonio Spurs during the first quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
The Rockets completed a sweep of their I-10 rivals, following up Saturday’s 12-point win in San Antonio with a 142-110 win over the Spurs at Toyota Center. Jalen Green led the Rockets with 31 points on 11-of-19 shooting while Kevin Porter Jr added 19 points and a season-high 13 assists. The Rockets shot 61 percent on the way their season-high point output
The only names listed on the Rockets injury report entering this game were two-way players Trevor Hudgins and Darius Days and they were on G League assignments, so the Rockets had all their key players together for the first time in a long time. They haven’t terribly hit by the injury bug this season, but when they have been without a guy, it’s been for an extended period of time.
Jae’Sean Tate missed almost the entire first half of the season with an ankle injury, and soon after he returned, Kevin Porter Jr hurt his left foot and missed 20 straight games. On Sunday, the Rockets showed what they can be when everyone plays.
“With the whole group are figuring it out,” Rocket head coach Stephen Silas said. “It’s good to have the whole group out there, and it’s been a good two games and we have another one coming up. We have a day off tomorrow, which will be nice, and then Brooklyn coming in.”
Someone will get hurt or be forced to miss time at some point over the final 18 games of the season, but right now, while everyone is healthy, the Rockets have an opportunity to build chemistry with one another both on the practice floor and in games.
“We all gotta be on the same page going into next season.” Jalen Green said. “We know we can’t really do anything about our record with playoffs or anything like that, but it’s all about pride and just going out and playing hard and trying to win as many games as possible.”
Kevin Porter Jr looks healthy
Porter was pretty quiet in his first two games back from the left foot injury that kept him off the floor for 20 games, but on Sunday he burst out in a big way. He impacted the game as a scorer and a distributor, finishing with 19 and 13 assists.
“First two games (there was pain), but I fought through,” Porter said. “This game there was no aggravations, and I definitely felt that I could control my moves a lot better with those two games under my belt.”
Porter scored or assisted on 12 of the Rockets first 20 points, and he finished the first quarter with 8 points and 4 assists, knocking down a three with 34 seconds left in the period to put the Rockets up 16. San Antonio battled back in the second, but Porter drained his third triple of the half at the buzzer to put the Rockets up 10 at the break and he chest bumped a fan sitting courtside on his way to the locker room.
“He was just making the right plays,” Silas said. “Drew the second defender, made the play. Found guys in the paint for layups, and we are passing ahead in transition, so it was good all the way around.”
Porter takes a lot of criticism from fans and media, but the Rockets desperately missed his ability to get to the rim and make plays for others over the course of the 20 games he missed, and his presence adds a dimension to the Rockets offense it lacked over that span.
Spurs gain ground by losing
While the Rockets played at full strength and Sunday and close to full strength on Saturday, the Spurs did anything but. Leading scorers Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell missed Saturday’s game while Zach Collins, Tre Jones, Romeo Langford and Jeremy Sochan missed Sunday’s game. The Spurs appeared to have zero interest in winning either game, and frankly that may be the right play in the long run.
San Antonio entered their weekend back-to-back with the Rockets 2.5 games back of their I-10 rivals for the NBA’s worst record. The Rockets two wins now have them in a tie with Detroit for the bottom of the standings with San Antonio within a half game.
None of this matters in the chase to win the lottery to land a chance to land French star Victor Wembanyama, the odds of landing any of the top four picks are the same for the league’s bottom three teams, but it’s only a 50-50 proposition to stay in the top four. The team that finishes with the NBA’s worst record can’t fall further than fifth, and the Spurs haven’t picked in the top five since 1997 when they won the lottery and drafted Tim Duncan.
The Rockets will host the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night.