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 defeat 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.
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It was Houston’s first match 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 rumors 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 chance 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 defense (or) offense,” 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.
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