With 7:09 left in the third quarter Sunday night, Toyota fell silent. The Rockets had just called timeout after James Harden fell to the floor in pain. He bumped knees with Spurs guard Patty Mills. The Rockets led 70-59, but with the team trailing its Western Conference Semifinal 2-1, there was a great deal of uneasiness from the people in the stands wearing white giveaway t-shirts. It didn’t last long.
Harden remained in the game after the timeout and drained a step-back 3-pointer of the 7-foot Pau Gasol with the shot clock about to expire. A couple of possessions later, he found Trevor Ariza for a three of his own. The next time the Rockets had the ball, Harden missed a triple, but Patrick Beverley chased down the rebound, and Harden found Eric Gordon for 3 to give the Rockets an 18-point lead. They won 125-104 to even the series at two heading back to San Antonio for game five Tuesday night.
In a game the Rockets had to win to avoid facing elimination in two nights, Harden was brilliant. He finished 28 points on 10-of-18 shooting with 12 assists. He added five rebounds and two steals.
Houston jumped out to a hot start, taking a 15-point lead when Nene stole David Lee’s pass and went coast-to-coast eight minutes into the contest. They shot 56 percent from the field, making 4-of-7 from three in taking a 34-22 lead after the first 12 minutes.
The second quarter started with Gordon following a Spurs turnover with a 3-pointer to get the lead back to 15, but San Antonio chipped away and had the lead down to three points before the teams went to the locker room with the Rockets leading 57-53. The Spurs shot 59 percent in the quarter, while the Rockets shot 43 percent. Both teams made exactly half of their field goal attempts in the first half.
After the flurry that allowed the Rockets to take their lead to 18, the Spurs closed the gap to 10, but the Rockets scored the next five points, and the teams traded 3-pointers to close the period. The closest the Spurs got in the fourth quarter was 14, with the Rockets leading by as many as 25.
Harden was joined in double-figures by six teammates, led by Gordon’s 22 points off the bench. He knocked down six 3-pointers. Ariza scored 16 while Ryan Anderson and Lou Williams added 13.
The Rockets shot 53 percent for the game, and knocked down 19 shots from behind the 3-point line.
Nene left the game soon after his dunk with what the Rockets called a pulled left groin. He was taken to the hospital to undergo an MRI.
Jonathan Simmons led the Spurs in scoring with 17 points. Kawhi Leonard and Lamrcus Aldridge scored 16 points.