HOUSTON — Almost everyone in this football-mad town has Texans-mania. So when player introductions were made before the Spurs-Rockets game at Toyota Center, the cheers for Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker from the hundreds of Spurs fans who made the drive were almost as raucous as those for Houston’s Jeremy Lin.
The Texans were playing the Patriots on “Monday Night Football” in a battle of two of the NFL’s powerhouse teams, and it was clear by the number of empty seats that a large chunk of Rockets season ticket-holders opted for a night of watching football on television.
Those fans watching the Texans’ 42-14 blowout loss to the Patriots missed Lin scoring a season-high 38 points and helping the Rockets extend the game to overtime. But the Rockets couldn’t overcome the first triple-double of Parker’s career (27 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists) and a career scoring night from Gary Neal (29 points) in the Spurs’ 134-126 victory.
The Spurs lead the NBA with 18 victories.
Maybe most Houstonians figured the Rockets, beaten by 22 in San Antonio on Friday, had no chance against the Western Conference-leading Spurs with Houston’s top scorer, James Harden, out with a sprained right ankle, an injury suffered in a Saturday loss to the Mavericks.
Parker recorded the first triple-double by a Spurs player since Duncan had 15 points, 18 rebounds and 11 assists in a victory over the Warriors on Nov. 30, 2010.
It was just the 13th triple-double by a Spurs player in franchise history.
As thrilled as he was to have the statistical milestone, Parker was relieved it came in a victory.
“If we lose,” he said, “nobody would have cared. They would just be talking about ‘Linsanity.’
“Now that we won the game, it makes it even better because at the end of the day, people only care about wins.”
Had the Spurs lost, it would not have surprised Ginobili, who scored 27 points and five of the Spurs’ 14 in overtime.
A team playing without some of its best players can be a dangerous foe, something the Spurs proved when a roster missing Ginobili, Duncan, Parker and Danny Green almost defeated the Heat in Miami on Nov. 29.
“I’ve had a 17-year career (in Argentina, Europe and the NBA), and I’ve seen this situation probably 100 times, or more,” Ginobili said. “A team is lacking one or two of their best players. That team comes on a roll, and they get confident, and they are playing without pressure, and everybody starts making shots.
“It happens. It happened for us against Miami, and it happened today, too. It’s something that you know, and you talk about it, but it keeps happening.
“We’ve got to give them credit. They played a terrific game.”
Duncan made only 1 of 9 shots and scored only 10 points but grabbed seven of his game-high 13 rebounds in the fourth quarter and overtime and had a key assist — a length-of-the-court outlet pass for an easy Ginobili basket — that resulted in a 130-122 lead with 2:05 left in overtime.
That was enough cushion to allow the Spurs to record their 11th win in 13 road games without any late drama.
“Tim is really good at doing that pass,” Ginobili said. “He loves that quarterback thing, his frustrated dream. He’s capable of that, and he made a great pass.”
Duncan wasn’t trying to emulate New England’s Tom Brady, who threw four touchdown passes to spoil the evening for all those Rockets fans who stayed home to see the Texans get humiliated in Foxborough, Mass. He is a lifelong Bears fan worried about Jay Cutler’s health.
At Toyota Center, it only mattered that his wide receiver, Ginobili, made the overtime catch that helped the Spurs put the finish on a game that had considerably more drama than the big football matchup. Spurs Nation