HOUSTON — Consecutive games of being pounded and pushed and essentially bullied by the Memphis Grizzlies put the Houston Rockets in position to respond in one of two ways when the San Antonio Spurs started utilizing similar tactics in the early stages Tuesday night.
The Rockets could either fight or fold. They chose the former option.
Rockets center Dwight Howard snagged a pair of critical offensive rebounds late in the fourth quarter to help Houston complete a 97-90 comeback victory at Toyota Center.
Howard corralled guard Aaron Brooks’ errant 3-pointer and added a putback dunk to double the Rockets’ lead to 92-88 with 1:28 remaining. And, after missing a pair of free throws at the 1:07 mark, Howard tipped the offensive rebound out to guard Patrick Beverly, who initiated a reset that yielded a bank shot by guard Jeremy Lin with 48.9 seconds left.
Those tough, physical plays were emblematic of the Rockets’ effort in the face of a bruising defensive performance by the shorthanded Spurs.
“The last two games, I wouldn’t say we quit, but when teams hit us we didn’t hit back like we needed to,” Howard said. “I was telling the guys we’ve got to fight no matter what. We’ve got to push, hit, do whatever we’ve got to do, and once we start doing that on a daily basis referees will start taking account of it knowing that this is how we’re going to play.”
Howard finished with 23 points and 16 rebounds, overcoming a frustrating offensive effort that included missing 10 of 15 shots. Lin, substituting for the injured James Harden, paired 18 points with eight assists while forward Terrence Jones added 21 points and nine boards.
The Spurs (33-12) led 46-39 at halftime but saw that lead evaporate quickly as the Rockets (30-17) outscored San Antonio 33-18 in the third quarter. Houston improved to 3-0 against San Antonio this season and snapped the Spurs’ streak of 15 consecutive 100-point games.
“The start of the third quarter hurt us,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “We came out and gave up a three right off the bat and then made a mental error defensively. They made a steal and it got them going.”
Forward Boris Diaw paced the Spurs with a season-high 22 points and 11 rebounds. Center Tim Duncan added 12 points and 14 rebounds, but he totaled just two points and three rebounds after halftime.
The Spurs blitzed the Rockets from the opening tip, converting their opening five shot attempts while extending to a 13-4 lead. Duncan added a pair of layups on consecutive possessions midway through the period to build the cushion to 17-6 and inspire Rockets coach Kevin McHale to quickly call his second timeout of the quarter.
It wasn’t until Duncan gave the Spurs a 21-6 lead with a baseline slam dunk that Houston stirred from its stupor. Forward Donatas Motiejunas drilled a 3-pointer before Jones carried the Rockets the rest of the period, closing with 10 points as the other starters struggled.
Houston managed to make it to halftime trailing by only seven points, even though Howard started 0-for-8 from the floor and forward Chandler Parsons closed the half scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting. Jones and Lin essentially carried the offensive load while the Spurs cooled by missing open perimeter looks and shooting 8-for-22 in the second.
“We were switching too much (defensively),” McHale said. “We kept chasing them and chasing them and chasing them too much. They were getting in our paint. We changed a couple of things defensively and the guys dug in and got stops.”
Not only did the Spurs miss 17 of 23 treys, they were whipped on the boards, surrendering a minus-16 margin that kept Houston in control.
“That hurt us bad obviously,” Duncan said. “They got some big ones down the stretch.”
NOTES: Spurs G Manu Ginobili left the game with tightness in his left hamstring and was to be evaluated later. He will not play Wednesday night against the Chicago Bulls. … Rockets G James Harden missed his seventh game this season, sidelined this time with a bruised left thumb suffered Saturday night against the Memphis Grizzlies. Harden has performed exceptionally against the Spurs since joining Houston prior to last season. He has averaged 30 points on 60.7 percent shooting, plus six rebounds and six assists, over five games. … The Spurs were without G/F Danny Green (fractured left hand), F Kawhi Leonard (fractured right hand) and C Tiago Splitter (sprained right shoulder). … The next win for the Spurs’ Big Three of Tim Duncan, Ginobili and Tony Parker will be their 485th, matching the Los Angeles Lakers’ trio of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Cooper and Magic Johnson for second all-time. The Boston Celtics’ trio of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish won 540 games.
Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair
If James Harden needed any extra motivation against the Los Angeles Clippers, he found it in the first half.
Harden scored 34 points, and the Rockets held on for a 100-98 victory over the Clippers in a sometimes testy affair on Sunday at Staples Center.
Point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 23 points, missed a contested shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
“It was very important for us just to go out there and play well,” said Harden, who hit seven of 16 shots from the floor, three of five from 3-point range and 17 of 18 free throws. “The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today, and it was a good win for us.”
Harden provided much of that pop, particularly in the second quarter after Clippers forward Matt Barnes was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul after pushing Harden to the court at 6:02. Harden scored 15 of his 18 points in the period after that, leading the Rockets to a 58-50 halftime lead.
Did the flagrant foul add more fuel for the Rockets’ All-Star guard and MVP candidate?
“Yeah. Things like that are fun,” said Harden, who had 24 points in the first half. “We have fun, we got boosted off of that.”
The win ended a two-game skid for the Rockets (44-22). Houston forward Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while forward Terrence Jones added 16 points and 12 boards.
“This was a win that we needed, especially on the road,” Ariza said. “Going into the home stretch, these are the types of games we have to win.”
Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin returned after missing 15 games due to surgery on his right elbow. Griffin had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but committed five turnovers in 41 minutes.
“I didn’t think I played well,” said Griffin, who managed 4-of-10 shooting. “I was out of rhythm. Way too many turnovers, obviously.”
Barnes scored 19 points and guard J.J. Redick had 15 for the Clippers (42-24), who fell into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings with the Dallas Mavericks.
Paul lamented a host of turnovers in the defeat, including a critical one involving center DeAndre Jordan.
“I had some bad turnovers,” said Paul, who committed three of the Clippers’ 20 miscues compared to 13 for the Rockets. “On one, I drove it off DeAndre’s foot, the other one I lost towards the end of the half. We have to take better care of the ball. We still had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t do it.”
The Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Paul scored seven straight points, capping it with a 3-point basket to tie the score at 96 with 3:05 left in the game. Houston got a 3-pointer by Jones, but Barnes countered with a basket to keep Los Angeles within 99-98 with 1:35 left. Los Angeles, though, never scored again.
Griffin got a steal as Ariza attempted a pass to Harden, but Ariza drew a charging foul as Griffin bolted to the bucket with 12 seconds remaining. Griffin remained unhappy about the call after the game.
“If I speak on that, I’ll get fined,” Griffin said.
Harden hit one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left, capping the scoring before Paul failed to connect on a jumper in the lane with Ariza defending.
The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 36-20 in the second quarter despite making just 38.5 percent of their shots compared to 44.4 percent for the Clippers. Overall, the Clippers hit 43.9 percent to 37.2 percent for the Rockets. They also held an edge in 3-point shooting, converting 12 of 26 attempts to seven of 30 for Houston. The Rockets, though were 29 of 36 from the foul line to 14 of 24 for Los Angeles.
Jordan finished with 20 rebounds and four blocks.
NOTES: F Blake Griffin’s return benefits PG Chris Paul as much as any Clipper. “Teams have been able to trap (Paul) far more than they can when Blake is on the floor because of (Griffin’s) ability to pass,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure CP is the happiest of all to have him back.” … Rivers isn’t sure if injured G Jamal Crawford would return before the playoffs. Crawford has missed six games with a right calf contusion. … Rockets C Dwight Howard sat out his 18th game with a right knee edema. “He’s doing everything he can, he’s trying to get better, but until you’re on the floor, it’s impossible to say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said regarding Howard’s return. … Both clubs resume play Tuesday. Houston hosts the Orlando Magic, while Los Angeles plays the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center.
Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle
SAN ANTONIO — Guard Manu Ginobili was helped off the floor late in the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday due to a sprained right ankle.
Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points. He was immediately was led to the locker room, and he did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court. He did not return to the game.
In 19 minutes during the Spurs’ 123-97 win over the Timberwolves, Ginobili scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and leading him to play limited minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.
NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return
Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, out the last 15 games with an elbow injury, was cleared to return Sunday against the Houston Rockets.
Griffin had surgery five weeks ago to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.
“He said, ‘I’m ready,'” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday’s game. “Yesterday the trainers called me and said, ‘If he can go, he can go. He’s been cleared.'”
Rivers said timing likely will be an adjustment for Griffin.
“Timing is timing,” Rivers said. “You lose it when you don’t play in an NBA game. Sometimes you come back and you play great the first game and then you lose your timing. Sometimes it doesn’t. As far as the way we play, it won’t be hard for him at all.”
In 51 games this season, Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
–Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had to be helped off the floor late in the third quarter against Minnesota on Sunday. Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points.
He was helped off the floor and immediately was led to the locker room. He did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court.
Up to that point, Ginobili had scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against Toronto and play limited minutes against Cleveland on March 12.
–Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr sent emails to three fans who were disappointed that he rested several prominent players, including All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets in Denver.
“There’s two really good sides to the story,” Kerr said, according to the Associated Press report. “Nobody’s wrong here. … I can’t argue with them.”
Kerr received an email from a family that drove from South Dakota to Denver to see Curry, Thompson and the entertaining Warriors play. But Curry, Thompson, center Andrew Bogut and reserve guard Andre Iguodala did not play so they could be rested, and the Warriors lost 114-103.
“I heard from some fans. I received a few emails, stories about driving in from a long distance off and spending a lot of money on tickets,” Kerr said. “I have great sympathy for those people. I really do. It’s a tricky one. It’s something that I think Adam Silver is trying to address through the scheduling shuffling that he’s talking about.
–The Dallas Mavericks recalled center/forward Dwight Powell from the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Powell played in one game during his most recent assignment to the D-League and finished with 28 points, five rebounds and two assists to lead the Legends in a 115-89 win over the Austin Spurs on Saturday night.
Powell has appeared in 19 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.0 minutes per game.
–The Atlanta Hawks signed forward Austin Daye to a 10-day contract Sunday.
Daye appeared in 26 games (four starts) earlier this season with the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.
In 10 games this season with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League, Daye has averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 28.5 minutes.
–The Miami Heat recalled guard Zoran Dragic from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
Zoran appeared in four games (one start) and averaged 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.50 steals, helping the Skyforce to a 3-1 record over that span.