The All-Star was quick to point out that despite already clinching a playoff berth, this team has many more goals ahead.
“We don’t have the luxury of just taking nights off,” he said. “We’re not where we want to be. We’re not that good yet. So we have to go out there and approach every single game, no matter who we’re playing, like it’s a playoff game. We’re 15 games away, so it’s time to take it serious.”
Harden scored 16 of his 28 points in the third quarter to allow the Rockets to build a huge lead and sail to a 109-93 victory Monday night.
The NBA’s leading scorer took a little while to get going a night after sitting out against Dallas with a sore left knee and had just 12 points at halftime.
Despite his slow start, the Rockets had a comfortable lead in the third and were still up by 13 after a basket by San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray with about eight minutes left in the quarter. It was then that Harden took over, scoring the next eight points to start a 16-4 run that extended the lead to 82-57 with about 3 1/2 minutes left in the third and had coach Gregg Popovich calling for a timeout.
Harden had a 3-pointer and made three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt to propel that spurt. He didn’t return in the fourth quarter with the game in hand.
“We’ve played I don’t know how many games in about eight days or 10 days, but it’s a lot of games it seems like,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “And to have the legs to be able to do what they’re doing and put the game away is pretty good.”
The Spurs, who were without leading scorer LaMarcus Aldridge, got 14 points each from Bryn Forbes and Derrick White. They lost for the fifth time in six games as they fight for a playoff spot.
“Everybody tries to be the best they can be by playoff time and that will be our goal, too,” Popovich said. “(We want) to be in the playoffs and to be as good as we can possibly be no matter what the circumstances are.”
San Antonio scored four quick points in the fourth quarter to get within 15. But Houston responded with the next eight points, with the last five from Chris Paul, to make it 99-76 and end Paul’s night with about 8 minutes remaining.
Paul, who finished with 18 points and nine assists, wowed the crowd in that stretch, crossing over Forbes before sinking a basket and then knocking down a 3-pointer on Houston’s next trip down the court.
The Rockets were up by 10 early in the third quarter before using a 7-3 run, capped by a 3 from Trevor Ariza, to make it 61-47 with about 9 1/2 minutes left in the quarter before the big Harden-fueled run put the game out of reach.
Spurs: Popovich said before the game that he didn’t have any update on when Kawhi Leonard could return amid recent reports that he could return later this week. Leonard has played just nine games this season because of a quadriceps injury. … Aldridge missed the game because of a sore right knee. … Manu Ginobili got a day off to rest. … Rudy Gay added 13 points. … Tony Parker had 12.
Rockets: Ryan Anderson missed his eighth straight game with a sore left hip. D’Antoni said he is doing better but he doesn’t know when he’ll return. … Clint Capela had 13 points and nine rebounds.
SUCCESS AGAINST SPURS
Houston improved to 3-0 against the Spurs this season with one game left in the series. It’s just the second time since the 1997-98 season that the Rockets have won the season series against San Antonio after going 4-0 against the Spurs in the 2013-14 season.
THEY SAID IT
D’Antoni, on the energy P.J. Tucker brings to the team: “When you have P.J. Tucker out there, it’s hard not to have energy on the floor. He’s got energy for about four or five guys.”
Spurs: Host Orlando on Tuesday night.
Rockets: Host Clippers on Thursday night.