HOUSTON -- Rockets guard James Harden drilled a 16-foot jumper with 4.5 seconds left, lifting Houston to a 96-95 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday night at Toyota Center.
After making the inbounds pass to center Omer Asik, Harden immediately received the ball from Asik, worked around his screen, and sank the shot at pushed the Rockets ahead.
Spurs forward Tim Duncan missed a game-winning attempt just prior to the buzzer as the Rockets averted a four-game season sweep against their in-state rivals.
Harden finished with 29 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
Spurs guard Tony Parker scored 10 consecutive points to erase an 89-83 deficit and push San Antonio in front. Houston went six-plus minutes without a basket to surrender the lead.
The Rockets (39-31) finally awakened when reserve guard Patrick Beverely, a two-way force in the first half, blocked Danny Green at the rim and turned that defensive gem into a Chandler Parsons 3-pointer that cut the deficit to 93-92 with 1:19 to play. Parsons had scored the previous Houston basket, a tip-in in transition for an 87-79 lead with 7:26 left.
Parker scored 12 of his team-high 23 points in the fourth quarter, while Duncan added 17 points and seven rebounds for the Spurs (53-17).
Parsons had 20 points, and Asik corralled 14 rebounds.
The Spurs had torched the Rockets' defense in three earlier victories, averaging 123.3 points while posting improving effective field-goal percentages during each triumph. However, from the outset Sunday, the Rockets were primed for the challenge of defending San Antonio, holding the Spurs to 42.3 percent shooting for the game.
The Spurs were up to the defensive challenge, bottling up Harden early, as he missed four of five attempts in the first quarter. The Rockets managed to offset their own woeful shooting -- Houston shot 36 percent in the first quarter -- by attacking the offensive glass, turning seven offensive rebounds into seven second-chance points and a 22-20 lead.
Asik was instrumental to the Rockets' success on the glass, and he met the challenge of defending Duncan alone headlong. Asik thwarted Duncan at the rim twice, and while Duncan more than held his own offensively, Asik was the foundation for the Rockets' improved defense.
NOTES: With the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies entering play Sunday separated by one game in the race for third and fourth place in the Western Conference, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich offered perspective on the value of home-court advantage. "Teams that win championships win on the road," Popovich said. "Nobody would give away home court, but if you're the best team it's not necessary." To wit, four of the past seven NBA champions clinched the title on the road, including the Spurs in 2007. ... With the regular season winding the down and a postseason berth coming into view, Rockets coach Kevin McHale would like to lessen the minutes load on Harden and Parsons, who rank ninth (2,572) and 18th (2,461), respectively, in the NBA. Of course, since Harden is 23 years old and Parsons is 24, there is some conflict on just how much rest they require. "You fight with getting them out sometimes and trying to get them some rest," McHale said. "Part of me does say on that given night, 'Well, they're young. They'll be OK.'"