Regular Season Series (Game 3 of 4)

Series starts 11/17

Game 1: Thursday, November 17th
Game 2: Sunday, March 12th
Game 3: Saturday, March 18th
Game 4: Wednesday, April 19th

Spurs 92

(52-14, 23-10 away)

Rockets 77

(29-37, 13-21 home)

Coverage: KRRT

7:30 PM ET, March 18, 2006

Toyota Center, Houston, TX

1 2 3 4 T
SA 11 28 21 3292
HOU 17 16 20 2477

Top Performers

SA: T. Parker 23 Pts, 4 Reb, 8 Ast

Hou: Y. Ming 20 Pts, 10 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 Blk

Parker scores 23 as Spurs beat Rockets

HOUSTON (AP) -- The Houston Rockets looked like they were on the verge of a comeback against San Antonio midway through the fourth quarter on Saturday night.

The Spurs shrugged off the challenge, scored when they needed to and put the Rockets away.

Tony Parker scored 23 points and Tim Duncan added 14 to help the Spurs keep pace with Dallas for the best record in the West with a 92-77 victory.

The Spurs recovered from a 5-for-23 shooting start to match the Mavs' 52-14 record atop the Western Conference.

"It was absolutely a big win for us," Duncan said, "but the start looked like it was going the wrong way."

Yao Ming scored 20 points for the Rockets, the 13th straight time he's reached 20. He also grabbed 10 rebounds for his 26th double-double.

But Houston has lost four in a row for the first time since dropping seven straight in January and the latest losses are following the same pattern -- with Tracy McGrady sidelined with back trouble, Yao isn't getting enough help.

Juwan Howard scored 18 and Luther Head had 12 for the Rockets. But Rafer Alston, who had 18 in Wednesday's 95-81 loss to Dallas, went 2-for-14 from the field and scored only eight points.

In November, McGrady scored 27 in another loss to the Spurs. He sat out for the 19th time this season on Saturday and the Rockets dropped to 2-17 without him.

His absence allowed the Spurs to converge on Yao and dare the Rockets to shoot from the outside. And Houston went 0-for-7 from 3-point range.

"Tracy not being there made it a whole lot easier for us," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.

The Rockets trailed by 13 with 8 minutes left, but Head's layup capped a mini-rally and trimmed Houston's deficit to seven.

The Spurs, the league's best defensive team, allowing 88 points per game, then held the Rockets to four baskets the rest of the way to beat Houston for the fifth straight time.

The Spurs have won four in a row overall and 12 of their last 14.

The Rockets, meanwhile, might as well start planning for next season.

McGrady could be out the rest of the season with a back injury and the Rockets, plagued by injuries all season, got another scare early in the game when Yao collided with Nazr Mohammed. Yao went down, clutching his right knee, but stayed in the game after the Rockets called time out.

Yao had only five points in the first 9 minutes, but the Rockets led because of the Spurs' 3-for-16 start. The Spurs trailed 17-11 after one, a season low in a first quarter for a Houston opponent.

San Antonio stayed close with its defense, then sank four straight shots and took its first lead at 23-22 on Michael Finley's 3-pointer with 6:42 left in the half. After the awful start, the Spurs sank eight of their next 10 shots.

"Every time we play Houston, we have a hard time scoring," Parker said. "Whenever you make the outside shot, it opens things up for us."

While the Spurs found their range, the Rockets' offense suddenly fell apart, with four consecutive turnovers and no points for 3 minutes.

Yao said the Spurs' defense is the best the Rockets have seen this season, clogging the lane and contesting passes to the post.

"Whatever we do, we cannot hit the paint, with our post-up or penetration," Yao said. "And if you see our offensive rebounds, they're way down. They play the paint very well."

The Spurs led 39-33 at halftime, 60-53 after three quarters, then opened the final quarter with a 12-6 spurt to seemingly put the Rockets away.

But San Antonio then went 4 minutes without a field goal and the Rockets surged to within seven. Duncan ended the Spurs' drought with a layup and Bowen sank a 3-pointer with 3:34 left to restore the double-digit edge.

"We have shown we play against these very good teams," Howard said. "But down the stretch, we haven't been able to respond. We turn the ball over, we miss shots, we allow too many layups." ^Notes:@ The Rockets have lost their last four in a stretch of seven straight against teams with winning records. Houston plays the L.A. Clippers on Monday. ...The Rockets dropped to 0-12 against teams in the Southwest Division. ... After matching a career high with 30 points against Phoenix on Friday, Mohammed scored only seven points.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


Team Stat Comparison

Points 92 77
FGM-FGA 37-76 (.487) 30-68 (.441)
3PM-3PA 6-16 (.375) 0-7 (.000)
FTM-FTA 12-18 (.667) 17-24 (.708)
Rebounds (Offensive-Total) 9-37 9-40
Assists 19 15
Turnovers 11 17
Steals 8 5
Blocks 3 3
Fast Break Points 2 12
Fouls (Tech/Flagrant) 23 (0/0) 17 (0/0)
Largest Lead 16 8

Top Performers

San Antonio
Tony Parker Parker
Points: 23
Reb: 4
Ast: 8
Stl: 0
Blk: 0
Yao Ming Ming
Points: 20
Reb: 10
Ast: 1
Stl: 0
Blk: 1