Then the Rockets (0-5), the only NBA team without a victory this season, gave the Spurs a few more.
Houston lost starters Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin to left ankle sprains, then missed three 3-pointers in the frantic final seconds to let the Spurs escape with a 124-121 overtime victory Saturday night.
Tony Parker had 21 points and 14 assists for the Spurs, including seven points in overtime. Richard Jefferson added 22 points and was 4 of 5 from behind the 3-point line.
And if San Antonio had managed to lose this one?
"We would be talking about it in three months, tomorrow, next week and in a month," said Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, who scored 28.
Forcing the Spurs to overtime without Brooks and Martin was of little consolation to the Rockets. Houston is off to its worst start since 1999, and left without knowing if it will have its starting backcourt available Sunday against Minnesota.
Shane Battier, who scored 14 points, stayed optimistic after another loss.
"If we play like this every night," he said, "we'll be fine the rest of the way."
Tim Duncan shook off a miserable first half and finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds for San Antonio.
"We played well for most of the game and then we let them back in it," Parker said. "We lost our focus."
Martin led the Rockets with 24 points before leaving in the third quarter with his ankle sprain. Luis Scola had 20, and shot the last of a trio of missed 3-pointers that Houston was able to attempt while the scrambling Spurs couldn't corral a rebound.
Brooks was hurt during an awkward landing after heaving an errant halfcourt shot at the halftime buzzer. X-rays were negative, and the Rockets said both Martin and Brooks would be re-evaluated Sunday.
With the Rockets already saving Yao for Sunday's game against Minnesota, the injuries to Brooks and Martin left them without three starters for the final stretch. It almost didn't matter.
The Rockets had two chances to put the Spurs away in the final 16.8 seconds of regulation, but Courtney Lee missed two free throws that would've pushed the lead to four and rookie Ishmael Smith missed a potential game-winning runner with 2.8 seconds left.
Before arriving in San Antonio, the Rockets could take some comfort in losing to four teams that were a combined 18-3 entering Saturday, including unbeaten New Orleans and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Silver linings in this loss might be tough to find.
"There's no satisfaction in losing this game," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. "We need a win."
Brooks had 18 points before writhing on the court while his teammates trotted to the locker room without the club's third-leading scorer.
Towering over Brooks on the court in a blazer was Yao, who didn't play on the first night of back-to-back games. Faced with choosing between Yao defending San Antonio's pick-and-roll or Minnesota's Darko Milicic, Adelman preserved Yao for the Timberwolves.
"I don't know if it's right or not," the coach said.
The Rockets are putting strict limits on Yao's minutes to try and keep the injury-plagued star healthy for a full season. The 7-foot-6 center is averaging 12.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.
The Spurs are off to their first 4-1 start since the 2007-08 season. ... Spurs F Matt Bonner (ankle) is expected to make the trip to Charlotte on Wednesday but isn't expected to play.