SAN ANTONIO — The San Antonio Spurs needed a lift after a succession of injuries to key players and a series of deflating losses.
Patty Mills' return gave the Spurs a boost, but withstanding an emotional and physical matchup with the Houston Rockets provided what they truly needed — a win.
Danny Green had 24 points and San Antonio held off a late rally to beat Houston 110-106 on Sunday, snapping a six-game skid against its intrastate rivals.
Mills had eight points, all in the final quarter, but his energy was the spark that helped the Spurs snap a two-game skid. The 6-foot guard from Australia even dived on his surgically repaired right shoulder for a loose ball in the first half and played all but 12 seconds in the fourth quarter.
"His energy, just his activity is was contagious," San Antonio forward Tim Duncan said. "It was great for us; brought a huge spark to the team."
Duncan had 16 points and Manu Ginobili had 15 for the Spurs (19-13).
James Harden had 28 points and Dwight Howard added 24 points and 17 rebounds for Houston (21-8). The Rockets' newest additions had differing levels of success: Corey Brewer scored 25 points and Josh Smith added five points.
Smith sat all but 30 seconds in the final seven minutes due to what Houston coach Kevin McHale deemed a lack of "familiarity" on a couple of missed defensive assignments.
It wasn't just Smith that seemed lost, though. Houston had 25 turnovers, including eight in the final quarter that resulted in 11 points.
"We weren't really sharp all night," McHale said. "They beat us on back cuts. They beat us on cuts and we weren't as sharp as we needed to be and the turnovers just killed us tonight, 25 of them, just too many turnovers."
Houston went 4 minutes without scoring between a pair of dunks by Howard — San Antonio ran off 15 straight points to open a 102-91 lead with 4 1/2 minutes remaining.
Harden blamed himself when asked what changed offensively.
"Me, myself. I was terrible, terrible," Harden said. "Just too much indecision, which is rare for me."
The Rockets responded with a 12-4 spurt, capped by Harden's 3-pointer with Duncan in his chest that pulled Houston to 106-103 with 52.1 seconds remaining. After Green missed a 3-pointer, Harden dribbled the ball out of bounds for his ninth and final turnover.
Green made four straight free throws in the final minute, helping San Antonio avoid going into overtime for the fourth time in its last six home games.
With Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard still out, the Spurs needed a boost and Mills provided it.
"I was excited, it felt a lot longer than it actually was," Mills said of his absence. "Knowing I was getting the chance to play again was great. I had a great sleep last night and great game-day nap."
Mills received a loud ovation upon entering the game with 3:28 remaining in the first quarter. Normally never shy about shooting, Mills did not attempt his first shot until nearly 2 minutes into his season debut.
Rockets: Donatas Motiejunas has three of his four career 20-point games in the team's last 14 games, including a career-high 25 against Denver on Dec. 13. ... Houston is 11-3 on the road this season.
Spurs: San Antonio's roster has missed a combined 94 games this season, with Mills (30), Tiago Splitter (20) and Parker (10) having sat out the most. ... The Spurs used their 20th different starting lineup this season. Duncan has been apart of all but four of those lineups. ... Mills committed consecutive turnovers late in the first half, leading Popovich to place an index finger to each temple as he screamed at the guard to play smarter.
Rockets: host Washington on Monday.
Spurs: visit Memphis on Tuesday.
Duncan had 16 points and eight rebounds in 31 minutes. His next double-double will tie Hall of Famer Karl Malone for fifth on the all-time list at 814. Wilt Chamberlain (968), Moses Malone (894), Elvin Hayes (890) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (885) are top four.
Houston guard Patrick Beverly was issued a technical and had to be restrained after going face-to-face with official Scott Twardowski over a non-call with 9:41 left in the third. Beverly charged at the official after lying on the floor and holding his side in pain for about five seconds after being hit on a screen. Minutes later, Beverly was arguing with someone on the Spurs' bench prior to an inbounds. Beverly also had to be restrained after approaching the officials after the game.
All content copyright ©2015 Daily Journal, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.