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Devin Vassell explodes in first half of Spurs preseason win over Rockets

With their full rotation available, the Spurs led wire-to-wire against their IH-10 rivals.

Houston Rockets v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

For the first time this preseason, the Spurs had their entire main rotation available (with only Devonte’ Graham listed as out), and fans finally got to see what a starting lineup of Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson, Jeremy Sochan, Victor Wembanyama and Zach Collins would look like. Although the results may have been somewhat skewed with the Rockets missing Jalen Green, Fed VanVleet and Dillon Brooks, the early returns were promising.

Just like two nights ago, the Spurs were the hot team out of the gate. Vassell hit his first three threes, and he and Zach Collins combined for the Spurs’ first 14 points before the ice-cold Rockets finally got on the board with a free throw. In all, that group led the team to a 17-1 start before the substitutions began, showcasing a dominant defense and team offense despite no point guard. Wemby himself got out to a slow offensive start but kept working hard down low to earn six free throws, and the Spurs ended the first quarter up 30-13.

The game slowed down a lot in the second quarter (in no small part thanks to the refs getting a little whistle happy and the two teams combining for 22 free throws in the quarter), but the Spurs managed to stretch out the lead to 23 a few times, including at 52-29 before the Rockets went on a 13-2 run to make things interesting again. But of course, Vassell responded, and the hot man on the night hit two threes to close the quarter for 25 first-half points and spotting his team a 60-44 halftime lead.

Wemby finally hit a three to open the second half after shooting 0-5 in the first half, and Sochan followed with one of his own, but like the last game, the Rockets showed no quit and were the more active team after the break. They got the lead down to single digits a couple times, including on a three from former Spur Jock Landale (who was barely recognizable with a buzz cut and neatly trimmed beard) to make it 78-71, and the Spurs’ lead hung precariously at 83-75 after the third quarter.

As the teams emptied their benches in the fourth quarter, it was initially more of the same between the third units. The Rockets got as close as six, but the Spurs always had a response. Dominick Barlow continued to score efficiently, and Julian Champagnie finally got a much needed three to fall for him to stretch the lead back to 15 with five minutes left. The Spurs then maintained a double-digit lead pretty much the rest of the way for the relatively comfortable 117-106 win.

Game Notes

  • The starting lineup ultimately outscored the Rockets 30-17 for the game, although it was certainly a tale of two halves with that aforementioned 17-1 start to the first half (largely thanks to Vassell and Collins on offense), but they were outscored 13-16 in the second half. It’s certainly a stout defense when they’re all focused, but as predicted, the lack of a point guard to set things up can make the offense a bit stagnant at times. Still, it’s a fun group, and they should improve with more time together. It will be interesting to track that line-up’s stats for the season (and compare it to the same group with Tre Jones substituted in for someone).
  • Outside of the Spurs’ hot start, both teams generally struggled throughout the first half. The Rockets especially struggled with foul trouble, with five first-half fouls for Alperen Sengun and four for Amen Thompson. (In a normal game, they likely would not have been allowed to stay on the floor to reach that point.) Both teams also combined for 20 turnovers and 40 free throws in the first half alone. It’s the preseason, refs, let the guys play a little.
  • It was a mixed-result night for the hustle and miscellaneous stats. The Spurs had a much better (but not great) time at the free throw line, improving from 14-27 the other night to 26-34 tonight, and they won the overall rebound battle 54-50. However, they allowed the Rockets to grab a whopping 16 offensive rebounds and score 23 second chance points, and 13 of their 23 turnovers were the result of steals. There’s plenty to still clean up.

Play of the Game

We were all waiting for that play of the day where you see something from Wemby that you’ve never seen before, and while there was a candidate when he nutmegged Reggie Bullock in transition, this dunk was another one of those “only Wemby” plays with, as Ryan Hollins put it, his “Go-Go Gadget” arms stretching out and back for the finish.

Up Next: Friday at Golden State Warriors

The Spurs will get their final tune-up in San Fransisco before taking a few days off ahead of their regular season opener on October 25. Tip-off will be a 9 PM CT on NBA TV.