HOUSTON -- The fits and spurts of a contentious postseason series can turn goats into heroes in the blink of an eye, or specifically in the span of two games.
Forward LaMarcus Aldridge, derided for his ineffectiveness in Game 1, scored at will in the paint before the San Antonio Spurs turned a late barrage of 3-pointers into a 103-92 victory over the Houston Rockets on Friday night at Toyota Center.
Aldridge scored four points and was victimized defensively in the Rockets' blowout win in Game 1. In Game 3 of this Western Conference semifinal series, Aldridge had 26 points on 12-of-20 shooting plus seven rebounds and four blocked shots as the Spurs grabbed a 2-1 series lead with Game 4?on Sunday.
"This was his best game, obviously," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of Aldridge. "He felt good tonight. He was loose as far as his physical nature, his legs and everything. He wasn't too stiff. And it showed. He moved up and down the court well, he was able to push off on the block, he felt good shooting the ball.
"In addition to busting his butt on (defense) and trying to hit the boards for us, he was a big help tonight."
Kawhi Leonard had 26 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists for the Spurs, who played their first postseason game without guard Tony Parker since May 27, 2001. Patty Mills chipped in 15 points while Pau Gasol added 12 points and nine boards.
Following a dunk by Rockets forward Trevor Ariza that cut the deficit to 76-72 with 7:50 left, Aldridge and Leonard combined to score the next 12 points for the Spurs. The last Leonard basket during that run was a 3-pointer, and when Danny Green followed with consecutive 3s, the Spurs led 94-82 with 3:14 left to play.
James Harden scored a game-high 43 points, including 30 of the Rockets' 53 second-half points, but had just five assists as San Antonio effectively stifled his teammates. Harden entered Game 3 averaging 12 assists in the series. Houston shot just 36.4 percent overall, including 4-of-16 shooting on 3s in the second half.
"They did a good job of just staying home on our shooters and forcing me to finish and make plays," said Harden, who shot 14 of 28 from the floor.
Ariza totaled 17 points but had two after the intermission. Center Clint Capela had 12 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks but the Rockets' three-man bench of Eric Gordon, Nene and Lou Williams combined for 10 points on 3-of-19 shooting.
"Offense we just let ourselves down," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We just couldn't get it going. Guys couldn't get open and if they were, they wouldn't make (shots). We can't shoot 35 percent."
The Spurs dug in defensively from the opening tip as the Rockets scratched together just six field goals on 25 percent shooting in the first quarter. While the Spurs weren't much better (34.6 percent), they did manage two transition baskets and 12 points in the paint. Yet the Rockets led 21-19 entering the second quarter.
When the Rockets aided San Antonio with seven second-quarter turnovers, the Spurs took full advantage. After shooting 1 of 5 in the first quarter, Leonard made a dunk with 3:37 left before adding a baseline turnaround jumper, a second-chance basket and two free throws to lift the Spurs to a 43-39 halftime lead.
Aldridge scored six points around the Leonard dunk to signal that he would be a factor, and when the Rockets tried to surge late, Aldridge responded repeatedly.
"I just stayed with it," Aldridge said. "I just tried to do what the team needs from me," Aldridge said. "I saw that I was needed to do more tonight and I tried to do that. I tried to be more aggressive and make things happen. Without TP (Parker), I needed to be even better."
NOTES: With G Tony Parker sidelined for the remainder of the postseason (ruptured quadriceps tendon), rookie G Dejounte Murray started in his place. Murray, who started eight games during the regular season, logged just 13 minutes in Games 1-2. Veteran G Patty Mills maintained his role off the bench. ... The Rockets tweaked their rotation a bit, with G James Harden taking his first rest with 2:20 left in the first quarter. Harden normally plays the entire opening quarter before resting to start the second. ... Spurs C Pau Gasol scored 12 points and became the sixth player in NBA history with 2,000 points, 300 assists and 200 blocks in the postseason (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing).