Just over 24 hours since trading away disgruntled star James Harden, the Houston Rockets locker room felt like it had something to prove.
Shorthanded while they wait for newly acquired players to join the team, the Rockets were led by emerging leader Christian Wood, who had told reporters a day earlier that his expectations for this team had not changed.
"I didn't come to the Houston Rockets to lose any games," Wood said. "I'm gonna make sure everybody on this team competes."
The 25-year-old backed up his words with a dominant performance as the Rockets surprised the San Antonio Spurs to come from behind late in the 109-105 win.
Is Wood the Most Improved Player front-runner?
Now with his sixth franchise in just five seasons since going undrafted, Wood is playing with a chip on his shoulder.
Right from the outset, the talented big man was the Rockets clear No. 1 on offence, letting it fly from the outside and putting the ball on the floor to get to the basket.
Finishing with 27 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks, it was his eighth 20-point game from nine appearances this season.
Christian Wood is the 4th player this season with 15 points and 10 rebounds in a half.- ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 15, 2021
The others? Former All-Stars Joel Embiid, Andre Drummond and Domantas Sabonis. pic.twitter.com/A923q90CNi
A career 35 percent shooter from deep, Wood had been languishing at 27 percent prior to tonight's 5-for-7 showing, where he nailed his first three tries to set the tempo.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the performance was the fact that the new starting backcourt of John Wall and Victor Oladipo were both absent, with the veteran duo set to make life easier for athletic centre.
Wood got paid in the offseason and to this point, his $41 million contract is looking every bit a bargain.
C-Wood highlights for the casuals out there.- Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) January 15, 2021
CC @SHAQ 😂 pic.twitter.com/SksZ0XgNzU
Jae'Sean Tate steps up
Much has been made of the surprising rookie class so far this season and the national tv audience was treated to yet another big night from a rookie.
Signed out of Australia's National Basketball League, Jae'Sean Tate is a mature 25-year-old who can contribute on both ends of the floor.
Tate joined the Rockets from the Sydney Kings, joining his head coach Will Weaver in singing with the Rockets during the offseason.
Jae'Sean Tate FTW!- Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) January 15, 2021
🏀 13 PTS
➡️ 10 AST
💪 5 REB pic.twitter.com/Ts9azM3yut
Registering his first double-double with 13 points and 10 assists, it was a critical sequence down the stretch that typified his performance.
Scoring on a pretty finger roll to give the Rockets a 107-103 lead with 1:19 left in the fourth, Tate then blocked a Keldon Johnson shot attempt on the ensuing possession, before forcing a jump ball after Johnson once again attempted to drive to the basket.
Tate's spot in the starting five may not be secure for now, but his spot in the rotation will be locked if his early season play is any indication.
Another big night for Keldon Johnson
Although he was unable to finish the above mentioned plays on Tate, Keldon Johnson registered another huge night for the Spurs.
Scoring 29 points on 12-for-16 shooting, it was an incredibly efficient night for the 21-year-old who has burst onto the scene in year two.
Overall it was a costly loss for the Spurs, who now sit 6-6 on the season. Frustrated postgame, head coach Gregg Popovich said he believes the loss was "between the ears" as the depleted Rockets may have loomed as an easy win for the developing squad.
If there's one thing we should have all learned through the first month of the season...nothing is for certain in the NBA in 2021.
San Antonio won't have long to wait to avenge the loss, with the Rockets and Spurs each staying put to meet again after one day off.
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