VanVleet scores 21 points and Rockets hold off Spurs 103-101 on an off night for Wembanyama

San Antonio cut the deficit to 99-98 with 19 seconds remaining on Jeremy Sochan’s three-point play off a missed 3-pointer by Wembanyama. But Houston was able to stay ahead from the foul line.

“I feel like we followed the game plan until the final minute,” Rockets guard Dillon Brooks said. “We wanted to foul and not let them get any shots up on the rim, make them earn it on the free throw line.”

Houston won its fourth straight on the road and is five games behind Golden State for 10th in the Western Conference.

Wembanyama finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds and six assists after a sluggish start.

“I wish we played him again,” Brooks said.

Wembanyama finished 5 for 12 from the field as Houston threw multiple double- and triple-teams at him while using undersized defenders such as Brooks and Jae’Sean Tate.

“The physicality, the energy,” Wembanyama said of the difficulties he faced offensively. “Every night it’s a challenge, but this is a very aggressive team defensively, so this is the most hard.”

Tre Jones had 22 points and Sochan added 21 as San Antonio lost for the fourth time in five games.

At 14-52, San Antonio must finish at least 7-9 to avoid matching the franchise’s worst record of 20-62 set in 1997.

Jalen Green had 16 points and Jabari Smith Jr. added 15 for the Rockets, who had seven players score at least eight points.

The Rockets were without Alperen Sengun, who had a career-high 45 points and five blocks along with a season-best 16 rebounds in a 114-101 victory over the Spurs on March 5. Sengun is out indefinitely after sustaining injuries to his right ankle and knee against the Sacramento Kings on Saturday.

Jones matched a career high with four 3-pointers, all in the first half. He finished 4 for 7 on 3-pointers and was held to six points in the second half.

“Tre is a consummate competitor,” Popovich said. “He’s going to do everything he can to win a game. Simple as that. That’s what he does. He’s at his best night after night after night. He’ll do anything that needs to be done.”

Jones’ output was needed with Keldon Johnson sitting out with a stomach illness and Wembanyama and Devin Vassell having off nights.

Wembanyama and Vassell, the team’s leading scorers, were a combined 2 for 7 and had two points apiece with two minutes remaining in the third quarter. Vassell finished with five points and Wembanyama had 11 points in the final 14 minutes of the game.

“When you’ve got a guy like Wembanyama, we feel like we have three, four really solid defenders that we can throw on him,” Houston coach Ime Udoka said. “Guys that are undersized that can kind of move in on him and take him off his spot. (Tate) came in and did some of the same things that Dillon was doing.”

Vassell was fouled off an inbounds play with four seconds remaining before he could take a potential game-tying 3-pointer. Vassell made the first free throw and then purposely missed the second, which Amen Thompson rebounded to seal the victory.

“It’s something that we’ve worked on and done quite a few times this year,” Udoka said. “It’s worked well for us. You want to take away that only shot that can (tie) us and our denials were really good.”

The Spurs built a 10-point lead to open the game, but the Rockets went on an 8-0 run as soon as Wembanyama went to the bench for a rest.

The Spurs face Denver on Friday in a home game at Austin as part of their regional outreach.