SAN ANTONIO (AP) – With “MVP!” chants reverberating through the AT&T Center, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard outdueled Houston’s James Harden in the fourth quarter of a battle between two of the league’s top players.
Leonard scored 39 points, including 17 in the final quarter, and made big plays on both ends in the final 30 seconds as the Spurs rallied for a 112-110 victory over the Rockets on Monday night.
“Kawhi wanted it badly, and he went and took it,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said.
Leonard outscored Harden 17-4 in the final quarter as the Spurs won their eighth straight.
Harden finished with 39 points and 12 assists in the final matchup of the season between the intrastate rivals.
Harden hit one of two free throws to give Houston a 108-107 lead with 39.7 seconds, but Leonard followed with a 3-pointer over Nene 14 seconds later for a 110-108 advantage. Leonard then blocked Harden’s layup attempt from behind, pinning the attempt on the glass with 18.9 seconds remaining.
“I saw him get an easy lane to the basket and just tried to chase him down and time the layup,” Leonard said. “David Lee did a good job of not letting him really get athletic and just keeping a body and (going up) just straight. It let me get the ball.”
Leonard added a pair of free throws for a 112-108 lead with 14.5 seconds left to give San Antonio’s its third win in four games against Houston this season.
“The block is what makes him special,” Popovich said. “Obviously, the 3, you know, Harden makes 3s, Kawhi makes 3s, Steph Curry makes 3s. Everybody does that. But I don’t know who goes to the other end and does what he does. Not that many people, on a consistent basis, an entire game, game after game.”
Leonard finished 12 for 18 from the field, including 4 for 6 in the fourth quarter.
He was also the primary defender on Harden in the final quarter, holding the All-Star to 1-for-5 shooting in the period. Harden missed a 3-pointer, a free throw and had his shot blocked in the final two minutes.
“That was a good block, but initially I got fouled,” Harden said. “That’s why the ball took so long to get up, but it’s a good block. We just didn’t win.”
Danny Green offered to switch defensively on Harden late in the fourth quarter but Leonard declined.
“It was probably 3 minutes left in the game and I felt like I had the energy to be able to guard him still and just make things tough on him,” Leonard said.
It was the fourth straight game in which Leonard has sealed a come-from-behind victory with a game-winning shot or game-saving steal.
“In clutch moments, he steps up his game,” Spurs center Pau Gasol said. “He plays at a very high intensity and a very high level throughout the game, but in the clutch, down the stretch when the game is on the line when you’re down three, he just makes great play after great play.”
Tony Parker added 19 points for San Antonio, shooting 3 for 6 on 3-pointers. LaMarcus Aldridge had 15 points.
Houston, which had won eight of 10, got 13 points from Trevor Ariza and 12 each from Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon.
The Rockets shot 67 percent and scored 39 points in the first quarter while opening a 16-point lead.
San Antonio went on a 20-4 run to take a 73-71 lead with 3:30 remaining in the third. The Spurs forced five turnovers and hit four 3-pointers in the run, three by Parker.
Rockets: F Ryan Anderson exited the game in the third quarter with lower back tightness. Anderson had seven points in 25 minutes. … Reserve guard Lou Williams had nine points. Williams was averaging 17.2 points in his previous five games since being acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers in a trade Feb. 23. . C Clint Capela had 12 points and nine rebounds, falling one rebound shy of his 11th double-double of the season. … Houston lost when holding the lead entering the final quarter for just the sixth time in 46 games.
Spurs: Leonard was named Western Conference Player of the Week after leading San Antonio to three come-from-behind wins. He averaged 32 points, 9.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 4 steals in three games. It was the fourth time Leonard has received the honor in his six-year career. … Leonard has scored in double figures in 91 straight games, matching San Antonio’s longest streak since Tim Duncan did so in 2002-03. George “The Iceman” Gervin has the franchise record with 407 straight games in double figures.
San Antonio (49-13) has won three straight over Houston (44-20) after dropping the initial meeting 101-99 on Nov. 9. The Spurs extended their lead over the Rockets in the Southwest Division to six games with 20 games remaining.
The four matchups were decided by an average of three points, which gives Houston hope if it meets San Antonio in the postseason.
“They’re good and they have the bar where it should be,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We have to get over the bar and we’ve been close. We had them 13 points down with four minutes to go at home. I thought we had a good shot tonight. We’ll look forward to it if we meet further down the road.”
Harden averaged 29.8 points, 11.8 assists and nine rebounds against San Antonio this season.
After knocking off Houston, San Antonio will face two more of the Western Conference’s best this week. The Spurs travel to play Oklahoma City on Thursday and host Golden State on Saturday.
Rockets: Host Utah on Wednesday night.
Spurs: Host Sacramento on Wednesday night.
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