SAN ANTONIO — Danny Green has created a place for himself in the NBA with a reliable 3-point shot.
Lately, the San Antonio Spurs have been forced to lean more on their shooting guard for his defense as well.
He came through for them on Sunday night, scoring 24 points and making five steals as the Spurs defeated Houston 110-106.
Green hit four free throws in the final 22 seconds, enabling the Spurs to snap a six-game losing streak against Houston.
The Spurs (19-13) played without two injured starters, forward Kawhi Leonard and point guard Tony Parker. Normally, Leonard, the team’s best perimeter defender, would be assigned to Rockets guard James Harden.
With Leonard out, Green took the job. Harden led Houston (21-8) with 28 points, but he also committed nine turnovers, including one with 25 seconds left and the Spurs leading by three points.
“He’s a great player playing at an MVP level,” Green said. “I just try to make his catches as tough as possible, his looks as tough as possible, nothing easy.”
Green induced two charging fouls, establishing position while Harden drove.
“It’s a guessing game,” Green said. “You gotta get lucky. I got lucky twice.”
Forward Tim Duncan scored 16 points for the Spurs while guards Manu Ginobili and Cory Joseph had 15 and 14 points respectively.
San Antonio made a 15-0 push in the fourth quarter to forge ahead by seven points.
Center Dwight Howard had 24 points and 17 rebounds for the Rockets. Forward Corey Brewer made six 3-pointers and added 25 points.
In a rare bit of good news for the Spurs regarding injuries, backup point guard Patty Mills made his first appearance after recovering from offseason surgery to his right shoulder.
When last seen in action, Mills scored 17 points against Miami on the night the Spurs secured their fifth NBA title. He made five 3-point baskets in that game.
Mills struggled in the first half against the Rockets, missing all three of his shots and committing three turnovers. But he scored eight points in the second half. Mills’ first basket of the season was a fast-break layup early in the fourth quarter after Tiago Splitter stole the ball from Brewer and dribbled end to end, not a typical play for the Spurs center. He said Mills bailed him out.
“Patty saved my (rear),” Splitter said. “He was right there.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Mills provided that type of energy even as he struggled.
“His return was huge,” Popovich said, “although it was a little scary when he dove on the floor in the first half.”
Joseph, starting in place of Parker, made critical plays during the fourth-quarter run: a steal, an assist and his usual tenacious defense.
San Antonio capitalized on 12 Houston turnovers and led 56-55 at halftime.
The Spurs still held a one-point lead after a third quarter in which each team made four 3-point baskets. Brewer hit three in a row for the Rockets.
But the Rockets committed eight of their 25 turnovers in the fourth quarter, including three by Harden.
“Terrible plays,” Harden said. “Too much indecision, which is rare for me.”
NOTES: San Antonio G Tony Parker missed the game with a strained left hamstring. Parker has missed nine of the last 12 games with the recurring injury. … San Antonio F Kawhi Leonard missed his seventh straight game with a torn ligament in his right hand. … One of Parker’s backups, G Patty Mills, was in uniform for the first time this season and made his season debut in the first half and played 20 minutes Mills, who exceled when the Spurs beat Miami in the 2014 NBA Finals, had offseason shoulder surgery. … F Josh Smith, the newest Rocket, moved into the starting lineup Sunday for his second game with the team. Smith was not shy in his first game as he shot 9-of-21 in 32 minutes during an overtime win at Memphis on Friday. … The Los Angeles Lakers have claimed former Rocket C Tarik Black off waivers, according to reports. Black was waived by the Rockets to make room for Smith.
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