HOUSTON, United States // James Harden was out with a thumb injury, and then Dwight Howard got off to a slow start.
It sure looked as if it was going to be a long night for the Houston Rockets. Then everything changed in the third quarter.
Howard got back on track and a pair of role players stepped up to help Houston rally for a 97-90 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday.
The Rockets trailed by as many as 15 points in the first half before scoring 33 in the third to go on top. San Antonio used an 11-3 spurt to pull within two in the final minutes, but Howard and Jeremy Lin helped Houston hold on for the win.
“We just kept grinding it out,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “We changed a couple of things defensively and the guys kind of dug in and got stops.”
Howard had 23 points and 16 rebounds for Houston, who enjoyed a 55-39 advantage on the glass. Terrence Jones scored 21 points and Lin added 18 points and eight assists while starting in Harden’s spot.
Harden, who leads the team with 23.7 points a game, was out with a bruised left thumb.
“I know I missed a lot of shots early,” Howard said. “I didn’t lose focus. I got a little frustrated because I wanted to make those shots, especially against Tim (Duncan). But I just tried to stick with it and show the team that no matter what I’m going to battle.”
Boris Diaw scored a season-high 22 points for the Spurs, and also had 11 rebounds. Tony Parker added 17 points and Duncan had 12 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks.
Houston were clinging to a 90-88 lead with less than two minutes left when Howard had a dunk and Lin made a jumper. Duncan had a layup on the other end, but Lin sunk a pair of free throws to secure the victory.
Houston have won all three meetings with the Southwest Division-leading Spurs to secure the season series for the first time since 1996/97. They have one scheduled game left on April 14 in Houston.
San Antonio’s 90-point performance ended a streak of 15 straight games with at least 100 points and sent the Spurs to consecutive losses for the first time this season. The last time they were held below 100 was a 111-98 loss to Houston on Christmas Day.
The Spurs got within six on a hook shot by Diaw early in the fourth quarter. Lin then scored five quick points to extend Houston’s lead to 81-70.
Houston were up by four points with four minutes left in the third quarter when San Antonio resorted to the “Hack-a-Howard” defence, fouling the centre every time the Rockets got the ball.
Howard made 13-of-25 foul shots on the night, leaving him at 52.2 per cent from the line for the season.
“I figured they were going to do it,” he said. “I’m just glad I made most of them.”
Duncan lamented that the tactic backfired for the Spurs.
“That’s what he had to do to get us out of it,” Duncan said. “He made free throws and he hurt us with them.”
OTHER TUESDAY RESULTS
Pelicans 100, Cavaliers 89
Anthony Davis led all scorers with 30 points, seven rebounds and eight blocks in the New Orleans Pelicans’ victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Eric Gordon added 20 points, seven rebounds and a game-high nine assists for the Pelicans (19-25), who have now won three in a row.
Guard Kyrie Irving paced the Cavaliers (16-29) with 23 points and five assists.
Knicks 114, Celtics 88
The New York Knicks got revenge for their worst loss of the season from the Boston Celtics by romping over their Atlantic Division rivals.
Boston (15-32) defeated the Knicks by 41 points, 114-73, on December 8.
In the rematch, Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 24 points, despite sitting out the fourth quarter of the blowout, and the Knicks (18-27) evened their eight-game homestand at 3-3.
Pistons 103, Magic 87
Brandon Jennings scored 20 points – the fourth straight game he has reached the 20-point mark – and the Detroit Pistons snapped a four-game losing streak with a romp past the Orlando Magic.
Josh Smith contributed 16 points for the Pistons (18-27) while guard Victor Oladipo’s haul of 19 led the Magic (12-34).
Wizards 88, Warriors 85
Both teams struggled with their shooting, with Washington finding an edge thanks to the rebounding efforts of Marcin Gortat (12) and Trevor Ariza (11) and the accuracy from three-point range by Bradley Beal (4-of-7) and John Wall (3-of-6) in the win over Golden State.
Beal finished with a team-high 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists, but shot 8-of-19 overall. Wall also scored 15, grabbed eight rebounds and had five assists, despite shooting just 6-of-19. The Wizards (22-22) shot 37.8 per cent overall as a team. Gortat (2-of-8) and Ariza (3-of-9) also struggled with their shot, with only Brazilian forward Nene (16 points, 7-of-15 shooting) finding his touch.
That was enough, though, on a night where the Warriors (27-19) were even worse. They shot 37.5 per cent as a team, with David Lee (2-of-10), and Andre Iguodala (2-of-7) providing the lowlights.
Klay Thompson shot just 5-of-17 and even Stephen Curry mustered just an 8-for-23 night in collecting his team-best 23 points.
Grizzlies 98, Trail Blazers 81
Zach Randolph scored 23 points on 10 rebounds, Marc Gasol had 15 and eight and Mike Conley scored 19 on 8-of-14 shooting while dishing out seven assists as Memphis (23-20) simply outmusceled Portland (33-13) for a road victory.
Courtney Lee continued his efficient play for the Grizzlies, as well, scoring 12 on 5-for-9 shooting.
LaMarcus Aldridge provided 27 points and 16 rebounds for the Blazers in the loss.
Pacers 104, Lakers 92
Despite a 4-for-21 night from the field for Paul George, Indiana (35-9) eased past struggling Los Angeles (16-30). Guard Lance Stephenson scored an efficient 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting, pulled down a team-high 14 rebounds and added six assists and two steals without committing a turnover in a strong performance.
David West also scored 19 and pulled eight rebounds, with centre Roy Hibbert adding 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Pau Gasol had 21 points and 13 rebounds and Kendall Marshall provided 11 points and 13 assists for the Lakers, who have lost five in a row and are 3-11 in January.