HOUSTON -- Dwight Howard scored 23 points, Terrence Jones had 21 and the Houston Rockets held on for a 97-90 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night.
The Rockets trailed by as many as 15 points in the first half before scoring 33 in the third quarter to go on top. San Antonio used an 11-3 spurt to pull within two in the final minutes, but Howard and Jeremy Lin helped Houston hold on for the win.
Boris Diaw scored a season-high 22 points for the Spurs, and also had 11 rebounds. Tony Parker added 17 points and Tim Duncan had 12 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks.
The Rockets were without leading scorer James Harden (bruised left thumb), who is averaging 23.7 points per game this season. But Jones stepped up in his absence and Lin had 18 points and eight assists while starting in Harden's spot.
Houston was clinging to a 90-88 lead with less than two minutes left when Howard had a dunk and Lin made a jumper. Duncan had a layup on the other end, but Lin sunk a pair of free throws to secure the victory.
Houston has won all three meetings with the Southwest Division-leading Spurs this season. San Antonio's 90-point performance ended a streak of 15 straight games with at least 100 points. The last time they were held below 100 was a 111-98 loss to Houston on Christmas Day.
The Spurs got within six on a hook shot by Diaw early in the fourth quarter. Lin then scored five quick points to extend Houston's lead to 81-70.
Houston was up by four points with four minutes left in the third quarter when San Antonio resorted to the "Hack-a-Howard" defense, fouling the center every time the Rockets got the ball. Howard finished 13 of 25 on free throws and had 16 rebounds.
The Spurs employed the strategy on eight straight possessions, with Howard making 10 foul shots while they had six points as Houston extended its lead to 70-62.
Diaw made a jump shot at the end of the third quarter to cut Houston's lead to 72-64 entering the fourth.
The Rockets opened the second half with an 11-2 run, capped by a two-handed dunk by Howard, to take their first lead of the game at 50-48. Lin started the run with a 3-pointer and also had two free throws in the surge.
Manu Ginobili made four free throws for San Antonio before Houston scored six straight points to take a 56-52 lead.
Ginobili and Chandler Parsons then exchanged rim-rattling dunks in rapid succession. The 36-year-old Ginobili appeared to injure himself on his jam and was soon limping and holding his upper left leg. He remained in the game for a bit before walking off the court and into the locker room at the next timeout.
The team said he had tightness in his left hamstring.
San Antonio led by 10 points in the second quarter before Howard made his first basket of the night after starting the game 0 for 8. The bucket was the first of five straight points for Howard with San Antonio's only points in that stretch coming on a layup by Marco Belinelli, helping Houston close to 46-39 at halftime.
Houston struggled early without Harden and San Antonio jumped to a 9-0 lead thanks to five points from Diaw. The Spurs pushed the lead to 21-6 with about five minutes left in the first.