SAN ANTONIO -- An unusual situation for San Antonio led to a series of atypical plays and unexpected strategy in the Spurs' 110-107 victory over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday in Game 5 of their Western Conference semifinal series at the AT&T Center.
With Kawhi Leonard out of the game for the stretch run due to a left ankle injury, it was up to the Spurs' role players to step up in the final five minutes of regulation and the overtime period -- and they did.
The win gave San Antonio a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series with Game 6 set for Thursday in Houston. If the Rockets win Thursday, Game 7 is scheduled for Sunday in San Antonio, with the Golden State Warriors waiting in the wings and resting for the Western Conference finals.
"Everybody pulled together and played some good defense without Kawhi being out there," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "The competitiveness was just off the charts. We're obviously thrilled with the victory -- either team could have won the game down the stretch."
Leonard rolled his ankle midway through the third quarter when he stepped on Harden's foot as he turned to move into transition defense. He played half of the fourth quarter but didn't score after a layup with 1:59 to play in the third quarter. Leonard still led the Spurs with 22 points and 15 rebounds.
Two Jonathon Simmons free throws and a 3-pointer by Green put the Spurs in front at 106-104, but Ryan Anderson's 3-pointer with 47.6 seconds to play pushed Houston back into the lead. Green then drove to the basket for a left-handed layup and was fouled, with the ensuing free throw giving San Antonio a 109-107 advantage with 30.1 seconds left.
"We all made the decision just to be aggressive," Green said. "We weren't going to lose the game being on our heels. We wanted to continue to attack and pressure and be aggressive on the defensive end without fouling -- to try to be smart. Offensively, we just kept the mindset that if we're open, just let it fly."
Houston's Eric Gordon missed a 3-pointer with 17.7 seconds left, and Green was quickly fouled. He converted the second of his two free throws to expand San Antonio's lead to 110-107.
Harden had a chance to tie the game, but his 3-point try was blocked from behind by Ginobili. Harden had his first triple-double of the series, leading all scorers with 33 points while taking 10 rebounds and dishing out 10 assists. However, he committed a game-high nine turnovers.
"I just missed too many shots," said Harden, who was 11 of 24 from the floor and 4 of 15 from beyond the arc. "We couldn't get in a rhythm at the end of the game or in the overtime. We had an opportunity to win this game and take a lead back home and we let it slip away. But we will be ready on Thursday."
Houston led 99-94 with 2:33 remaining but the Spurs roared back to tie the game at 99 at the 1:37 mark on a layup by LaMarcus Aldridge after a Patty Mills 3-pointer. A pair of Harden free throws with 54.1 seconds to play staked the Rockets to a two-point lead, but Ginobili answered with a tough, running one-handed layup to knot the game at 101 with 34.1 seconds remaining.
San Antonio had a chance for a final shot in regulation, but with Leonard, the Spurs' usual end-of-game option, on the bench nursing his injury, they looked out of sync and could not get off a shot in time.
Mills, who assumed the role as starting point guard for San Antonio for the first time in the series, scored 20 points, and Aldridge added 18 points and 14 rebounds. Simmons and Ginobili tallied 12 apiece for the Spurs.
Patrick Beverley scored 20 points while Anderson and Gordon added 19 and 11 points, respectively, for the Rockets. Houston used only a seven-man rotation, which was likely a factor in the endgame and especially in overtime.
Houston rallied to tie the game at 35 on a Clint Capela layup at the 9:23 mark of the second quarter and the game seesawed back and forth through the rest of the period before the Rockets claimed a 60-58 edge at halftime.
Harden led all scorers with 23 points in the half and Beverley added 11. Leonard paced the Spurs with 12 points, with Mills hitting for 11 and Aldridge adding 10.
The Spurs missed their first five shots of the third quarter, allowing Houston to forge a 5-0 run and a 65-58 lead. Leonard did all he could to keep San Antonio in the game, scoring six straight points and providing tough defense that allowed the Spurs to claw back to 75-71 on a dunk by Simmons at the 5:37 mark of the period.
Leonard's layup with 28.2 seconds left pulled San Antonio to within 85-83. Green then electrified the capacity crowd with a ringing 3-pointer with 0.9 seconds to play in the quarter to push the Spurs back on top 86-85, setting the stage for a furious finish.
"We probably got tired and just couldn't push it," Houston coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We had our opportunities with about three minutes to go in the game to knock a couple of threes down and make some plays and we just didn't do it. We played well enough to win. We just didn't finish the job. Now we have to find the energy to get ready for the next game and try again."
NOTES: San Antonio has won a playoff game against every Western Conference team since Gregg Popovich became coach in 1996. ... The Rockets used nine players in the first quarter of Game 4 after not utilizing more than eight prior to the fourth period in any of their first eight games of the postseason. ... This is only the second NBA playoff series in which teams split the first two games with each winning by at least 25 points. ... Game 4 marked Houston's second win by 20-plus points this series and its third of this postseason, the first time the Rockets have won multiple games by 20 or more points in a playoff series and in a single postseason in franchise history.