Yao Ming scored five points on 2-for-8 shooting, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked three shots in 13 minutes. The Rockets are strictly limiting Yao's playing time as he comes back from foot surgery that sidelined him last season.
Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan started for the Spurs, but none of their "Big Three" played more than 17 minutes. Parker scored 10 points, Duncan grabbed seven rebounds and Ginobili had five assists.
The Rockets led by nine after three quarters, and starters Brooks, Martin and Shane Battier were still on the floor as the fourth quarter began. By then, all five San Antonio starters were done for the night.
Houston coach Rick Adelman pulled the last of his starters with 8:51 left and the Rockets leading 80-74. The reserves nearly blew a 10-point lead in the last five minutes.
San Antonio cut the deficit to three, before Courtney Lee's driving layup with 2:06 left put Houston ahead 88-83. Gary Neal drove for a layup with a minute left, and James Anderson finished a fast break with another layup to pull the Spurs within 88-87.
Lee sank two free throws with 2 seconds left, and Curtis Jerrells missed a half-court shot at the buzzer.
The crowd thinned out long before that, when fans realized the stars were finished.
Yao played the first six minutes of the game, grabbed three rebounds and converted a three-point play. He blocked a layup try by Richard Jefferson, but let Duncan slide by him for an easy basket about a minute later.
Hill replaced Yao with 5:51 left in the first quarter. Ginobili and Duncan played nine minutes apiece in the first quarter, and helped the Spurs build a 23-16 lead. Parker played the entire quarter and scored eight points with four assists.
Houston missed 10 of 15 shots in the opening quarter and trailed 32-23.
The 6-foot-10 Hill hit five of his first seven shots and the Rockets took a 46-44 lead on his hook shot with 1:49 left in the first half. Hill led all scorers with 14 points at the break.
Yao and the rest of Houston's starters returned for the third quarter. Parker was also on the floor and swished a mid-range jumper to break a 50-all halftime tie.
Yao took a pass from Brooks and scored inside for his last basket with 5:47 left in the third quarter. He blocked two shots by Blair on the Spurs' next possession, and left the game for good after the ball went out of bounds.
Martin scored 14 points in the third quarter to carry Houston to a 77-68 lead.
Brazilian Tiago Splitter, the Spurs' biggest offseason acquisition, sat out with a strained calf muscle. Coach Gregg Popovich expects the 6-foot-11 Splitter to return to action in about a week. ... Rockets reserve center Brad Miller, acquired in the offseason to back up Yao, sat out with a sprained left ankle. ... The Rockets waived C Jordan Eglseder and F Patrick Sullivan.