SAN ANTONIO — The Spurs got off to a hot start, played tough defense throughout, and got the best of DeMar DeRozan's second 30-point game in a row late as they beat the Rockets 111-106 in Houston on Saturday night.
DeRozan is 19-35 from the floor and 21-23 from the line in those games, with 13 assists and just 3 turnovers.
"He's having a wonderful year, he's been a great leader, he's really been detailed in his approach to games, and he's been our go-to guy game after game after game."
DeRozan spoke after the game, saying what he usually does after a game like this: he took what the defense gave him. He said that the key to starting the game strong was that they came out understanding the importance of every single game in a packed Western Conference, where the Spurs are now fifth. Eight teams are trailing them by 2.5 games or less.
Derrick White looked solid in his first start of the year, putting up 14 points and 5 assists while helping with the active, loud defense with 2 blocks and a bunch of solid rotations. He broke down the communication and teamwork on defense, and cracked a joke about Patty Mills' acrobatic layup to end the first half.
White shared the backcourt with Dejounte Murray, who added 11 points, 3 assists and 2 steals. Keldon Johnson rounded out that trio with 10 points and 6 rebounds.
Jakob Poeltl was big on defense and on the glass replacing LaMarcus Aldridge in the starting unit, but was scoreless until he went to the line for pressure free throws late. He hit both.
Drew Eubanks tied a career high with 12 points, adding 3 blocks. Pop said both guys played solid basketball at both ends.
Eubanks spoke about the game slowing down for him a bit as he sticks to his simple role and communicates with his teammates. He said his routine has stayed the same, which goes back to his baseball days.
"I just try doing the same thing every single day, I've got the same routine, for road games, for home games, mentally, I've been listening to the same two songs before games," he said, though he didn't reveal which two.
Rudy Gay added 14 points and 6 boards off the bench, and Patty Mills and Devin Vassell each had 9.
It was a total team effort to bring the Rockets back down to earth after they had won seven of their last eight games. John Wall and Eric Gordon combined for 53 points, but like San Antonio they shot about 43% from the floor and 32% from deep as a team.
The difference in the game was that the Spurs forced their way to the line and shot 29-36, while Houston managed just 18-25.
San Antonio's next game is Monday against the Warriors on KENS 5.
San Antonio went zone to start the fourth, getting a stop. On the other end Drew Eubanks worked in the post and kicked to Rudy Gay, who drilled a triple to make it 87-77. Eric Gordon answered with a quick 4-0 run, giving him 20.
Gay took a charge on John Wall, leading to an unsuccessful challenge by the Rockets. Eubanks had a chance underneath, but fumbled it. Houston scored to make it 87-83. Dejounte Murray dribbled left, made a little space and hit a jumper, but Houston answered with a three.
Gay got to the line to calm things down, giving him 12 as he went 1-2. Danuel House got a mismatch on Eubanks and hit a triple to cut it to one, but Derrick White drove for a layup through contact. After some free throws the other way, he did it again.
Murray missed a shot, but Poeltl grabbed a board and got fouled. White drove again for another bucket in close, giving the Spurs a 5-point lead. Houston got to the rim for a score, but Johnson answered by getting to the line on a drive.
San Antonio forced a shot clock violation that they needed to fight for, but secured. Devin Vassell tried another open three and missed, but Keldon Johnson came flying in for a board and drawing a foul, but not shooting. He got blocked at the rim on the next try, and Houston hit a three in transition.
DeRozan turned it over and the Spurs gave Eric Gordon free throws, but he missed the first. The second rolled in to tie it at 98. Murray crossed over Cousins for an open jumper, but missed.
John Wall hit an iso jumper to give Houston their first lead.
Scoreless Jakob Poeltl bailed out a possession by grabbing the ball, getting fouled before the buzzer and going to the line, where he's been awful. He hit both to tie it at 100.
After Cousins missed a three, DeMar sold a foul on him after the rebound and got to the line, putting San Antonio back in front by two. Cousins turned it over and dove out of bounds for it, hitting his head or neck and leaving the game.
Murray drove baseline and got stripped, and Houston got a cutting layup to tie it.
DeRozan got back to the line with 1:37 left, putting the Spurs back up by a deuce. San Antonio left House open for a three, but got away with it.
DeRozan came back down, drove into the paint, pump faked, got House in the air, and shot through him for an and-1, and 30 points for the second game in a row, and a 5-point lead.
Dejounte stole from Wall and the Spurs burned clock, but missed. John Wall hit a layup to bring it within one possession, but they had to foul Patty Mills with 15.9 left. Mills hit the first, then the second, and Houston called time down by 5.
Murray shoved Rudy Gay through a screen, not a good idea as it gave Houston a few free throws to make it 109-106. Rudy Gay got them right back at the line.
Houston missed a few shots at the end, and the Spurs won 111-106.
DeMar DeRozan got San Antonio's first bucket of the half, and Derrick White got a quick layup and three, both off feeds from Dejounte Murray. The Spurs built a 9-point lead, but Houston kept scoring.
Murray got to the line, and after an offensive rebound by Jakob Poeltl, Keldon Johnson drove and shot through Victor Oladipo, drawing a foul but missing both.
DeRozan pulled up for a jumper at the free throw line, then found Keldon at the arc. He drove all the way, scored through contact, and hit at the line this time.
Patty Mills stripped DeMarcus Cousins down low, driving in transition and dropping it off to Devin Vassell from a dunk that showcased just how long and athletic he really is. It gave the Spurs a 10-point lead, and Cousins picked up a tech during the timeout, so DeMar made it 11.
Houston cut it back down to 8, but Vassell knocked them down a peg with a three. DeRozan kept hitting his mid-range shots, getting to 23 points with the defense unable to stop him there. He found Vassell again for a mid-range shot that hit the rim, went sky high, and fell.
John Wall got himself up to 21 by attacking the basket. San Antonio led 84-77 with a quarter to play.
Drew Eubanks opened the quarter with an aggressive dunk, but the rest of San Antonio's offense was misfiring. Derrick White ran pick and roll with Eubanks, finding him for a layup.
White put up a three that hit the rim thrice and bounced out, but made his next attempt and blocked a shot. Eubanks swatted another before heading to the bench.
Rudy Gay had a tough start to the game, but hit from mid-range and from deep. San Antonio built their biggest lead of the game at 12, but Houston responded with a 7-0 run.
San Antonio's defense continued to hurtle around the court, pressure the rim, fly out to the perimeter, and force tough shots and turnovers. The Spurs went a little too fast at times, turning it over in transition twice.
Houston pushed their run to 13-2 as the Spurs went cold, but after a tough possession DeMar found Patty, who found Rudy in the corner for a buzzer-beating three.
John Wall got a mid-range bucket, and DeMar ran pick and roll with Eubanks, who finished a tough floater over Cousins for his 10th point of the half.
Cousins scored with 3.3 left, but Dejounte threw a long outlet to Patty, who got all the way behind the defense, caught the ball in mid-air and finished in one fluid motion to beat the buzzer.
The Spurs led 51-47 at the break.
John Wall came out as a starter after being called a game-time decision, as did Dejounte Murray.
Keldon Johnson got the first bucket of the game on a high-arcing floater from the elbow. Victor Oladipo hit a baseline shot, and DeMar DeRozan answered with a shot from the same spot. He drilled a three, but Houston answered with a quick 5-0 run.
Dejounte dribbled left into a mid-range pull-up that fell, then grabbed a rebound and shot from the free throw line to make it 11-7. San Antonio's defense looked extra disruptive with Jakob Poeltl protecting the rim and everyone else flying around him.
Murray found Poeltl on a roll, but the big man went up soft and missed. He made up for it with a huge block on DeMarcus Cousins on the other end. Dejounte hit the jets and hit a layup in transition and-1. The Spurs used a 9-0 run to build a 16-7 lead. They could have built the lead even further, but Patty Mills missed a few threes from one corner and rookie Devin Vassell missed from the other.
Cousins didn't miss his attempt from the top of the arc, and the Spurs called time out up 16-12. After the break, Mills drilled a three on a beautiful floppy set.
The real key for San Antonio was the defense, which was firing on all cylinders. Drew Eubanks came in for a few blocks and points in quick succession. Vassell finished a lob (or blocked shot) from Patty with a simple dunk, then stretched out for an impressive block at the buzzer.
The Spurs led 29-23 after the first.
The San Antonio Spurs are getting another shot at the new-look Houston Rockets on Saturday night.
Coach Gregg Popovich said before the game that he thought Dejounte Murray would give it a go. He found a funny way to evade a question about how he planned to change his lineup to fill in for Lonnie Walker IV, out with a stomach issue.
"Play other people," he said. When asked if that meant anyone in particular, he said, "Yeah, the guys that are on the team."
The answer appears to be Derrick White.
Popovich also spoke about LaMarcus Aldridge, who remains out with a hip injury. He said he hasn't heard anything from the doctors yet, and he's not going to see them until the beginning of next week.
When, where: Saturday, 7:00 p.m., Houston
All-time series record: Spurs lead 111-91
Last season: Spurs won series 2-1
Season series: Series tied 1-1
Last meeting: Spurs won 103-91 January 16, 2021
Timberwolves' last game: Beat Memphis 115-103
Spurs' last game: Beat Minnesota 111-108
Rockets' last 10 games/streak: 7-3, won 1
Spurs' last 10 games/streak: 6-4, won 1
Rockets' injury/inactive report: Christian Wood, OUT; John Wall, ACTIVE; David Nwaba, ACTIVE
Spurs' injury/inactive report: Dejounte Murray, PROBABLE; Lonnie Walker IV, OUT; Rudy Gay, ACTIVE; LaMarcus Aldridge, OUT.