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Harden returns to lead Rockets past Spurs

The SportsXchange

SAN ANTONIO -- There is something good that happens when Houston Rocket's guard James Harden plays against the San Antonio Spurs. On Wednesday for the Rockets, that something good happened in the fourth quarter.

Harden returned to the starting lineup to score 28 points, 16 in the final period, to lead the Rockets to a 111-98 win over the San Antonio Spurs in a Christmas Day game.

Harden, who missed the last two games with a sprained left ankle, averaged 30.5 points and six assists in the last four contests against San Antonio. He was 11 of 16 shooting in 31 minutes.

"I don't know, I guess I like this arena," Harden jokingly stated when asked why he plays so well against the Spurs. "No, my teammates do a great job of putting me in positions to be successful and score the basketball. Our Offense is structured for everybody to score, and guys did a great job tonight."

All five Rockets starters were in double figures, including guards Chandler Parsons with 21 and Jeremy Lin 13. Forward Terrence Jones added 21 and 14 rebounds for the Rockets (19-11), who never trailed in the game. Center Dwight Howard had 15 points and 20 rebounds for this 20th double-double this season.

"Our guys played with a lot of fire and a lot of togetherness," Houston coach Kevin McHale stated. "We moved the ball well. Guys shared it. Our big guys had 35 points and 34 rebounds between the two of them. That's huge."

Guard Manu Ginobili led the Spurs (22-7) with 22 points.

Forward Kawhi Leonard added 13, while forward Tim Duncan had 11 points and 14 rebounds.

San Antonio's leading scorer, guard Tony Parker, had six points on 3 of 11 shooting. The Spurs have struggled going 0-7 against the top teams on their schedule.

The Rockets came out strong to lead this game, shooting 56 percent in the first half on their way to a 60-51 halftime lead. But it was Parson's 14 first quarter points, which included four 3-pointers, that jump started Houston to an 18-point lead in the first period.

By the time the first 12 minutes lapsed, Houston had 40 points on the board. It was the second time in the last three games that the Spurs allowed 40 points in a quarter.

Parsons had 16 points at the half to lead all scorers.

"That first quarter was embarrassing,' Ginobili said after the game. "They picked us apart. We were not as aggressive as they were, not as sharp as they were, not as smart as they were and they scored 40. So it's the second time that happened, and that's way too many."

San Antonio came back in the third quarter and cut the lead to two on a pair for Parker free throws with three minutes that made it 75-73, but it was the closest they would get.

Houston responded with Harden, who doubled his scoring in the fourth quarter, hitting 6 of 7 shots . The game was eerily similar to the one played Nov. 30th that Houston won 112-106. San Antonio came back from a 23-point deficit to take the lead, only to have Harden seal the win with a late 3-pointer.

San Antonio's bench outscored the Rockets second stringers 53-13.

"We just didn't give a very good performance," an upset and abrupt Spurs coach Gregg Popovich stated after the game. "Nobody's going to play perfect every night. But you can't combine poor performance with a lack of physicality and a lack of discipline. They whipped us. They whipped us good. That's an embarrassing loss."

NOTES: Despite key players in and out of the line-up with injuries, the Rockets maintained their offensive firepower. They rank second in scoring in the NBA averaging 106.3 points a game. ... Both teams sported the new "Big Logo" sleeve jersey designs the NBA unveiled for teams playing on Christmas Day. Players were also were wearing Christmas-themed shoes. ... Spurs C Tim Duncan had a rough start to the season, but regained his old form of late. The 17-year veteran is averaging 16.2 points, 12.2 rebounds and shooting 49 percent from the field in December.
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