HOUSTON — The Houston Rockets needed one win in their last two games or a loss by Portland on Wednesday to secure home-court advantage in their first-round playoff series against the Trail Blazers.
They were certainly happy to wrap it up Monday night instead of waiting until Wednesday to learn their fate.
The victory gave No. 4 seed Houston home-court advantage in their first-round playoff series with Portland.
“We fought hard for it,” coach Kevin McHale said. “It took a little longer than I hoped, but we knew we had to get 54 wins and we got there with one to spare. I’m glad we didn’t have to wait until Wednesday to try and get it.”
James Harden agreed.
“We wanted to come out here and take care of business and not rely on our last game on the road,” Harden said.
San Antonio used a big run at the beginning of the fourth quarter to go on top and was up by three later in the period when Houston scored eight straight to regain the lead at 95-90.
A layup by Jeff Ayres got the Spurs within four points before Harden knocked down a long 2-pointer with less than a minute left to make it 100-94.
Marco Belinelli had 17 points to lead the Spurs, who limited the minutes of stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili with their top seed in the Western Conference playoffs already secure. Duncan had 12 points in less than 30 minutes, Parker scored 10 in about 25 and Ginobili had 10 in about 22.
“We definitely did what we wanted to do,” Parker said. “We were able to play everybody — no injuries — and we got a good sweat out of it. We did some good stuff and Houston got the win at the end.”
Harden added 16 points with seven assists for the Rockets, who swept the four-game series this season with San Antonio. Howard had 17 rebounds and Jones pulled down 11 for Houston.
It was the second game back for Howard after he sat out the previous eight because of a left ankle strain.
“I feel like I was in a better rhythm, but I’m going to continue to get in shape, continue to do whatever I can to get my wind back so I can do more things on the floor.”
The Spurs opened the fourth quarter with a 14-4 run to go on top 82-80 for their first lead since the first quarter. Belinelli got that run going with a 3-pointer and finished it with a jump shot.
Houston missed five shots, including two layups as San Antonio took the lead.
A layup by Parker cut Houston’s lead to three points with about eight minutes left in the third quarter. The Rockets then used a 7-2 run to push their advantage to 64-56. Parsons started the run with a 3-pointer and Jones did the rest, starting with a tip-in before capping it with a soaring, one-handed alley-oop dunk on a pass from Harden.
The Rockets scored seven straight points later in the quarter to push its lead to 14, but San Antonio scored the last six points of the quarter with four from Ginobili to cut the lead to 76-68 entering the fourth quarter.
Houston led by nine after the first quarter and scored the first five points of the second quarter to extend its lead to 35-21. The Spurs had cut into the lead midway through the quarter and got within 41-36 with about five minutes left in the half after four quick points by Duncan.
An alley-oop dunk by Duncan about three minutes later cut Houston’s lead to 48-40 late in the second quarter. Harden got miffed at Ginobili’s physical defense after that and put his left shoulder into him and knocked him to the ground as he drove down the court. That play was initially ruled a flagrant foul on Harden, causing him to yell and curse at the officials as Patrick Beverley held him back.
The play was reviewed and knocked down to a personal foul, but Harden received a technical for his behavior after the call.
Ginobili made the free throw and Boris Diaw‘s hook shot got San Antonio within five, but Howard reverse layup left the Rockets ahead 50-43 at halftime.
Duncan received a technical in the first quarter when he knocked Beverley down after the guard was called for a foul on Duncan. … Howard got a technical midway through the third quarter when he seemingly inadvertently slapped Ginobili in the face at the end of a play. … San Antonio’s Matt Bonner missed the game because of food poisoning. … Francisco Garcia (sore back) and Parsons (sore wrist and hip) returned after missing the last game with injuries.