Houston Rockets clinch playoff birth
HOUSTON — Jermaine O’Neal was called for goaltending on James Harden’s last-second 3-point shot and the Houston Rockets defeated the Phoenix Suns 101-98 on Tuesday night.
Harden scored 33 points and Omer Asik tied his career high with 22 rebounds for the Rockets, who clinched a playoff berth later when the Jazz lost to Oklahoma City.
On the final play, Harden dribbled down the clock with P.J. Tucker guarding him and launched a 3 from the wing. It bounced high off the rim and O’Neal and Houston’s Patrick Beverley jumped for the rebound. O’Neal tipped it after it came down, just after the buzzer sounded.
Referees huddled on the court, then reviewed the play and ruled it the winning basket, setting off a wild celebration.
Luis Scola scored 28 to lead the Suns, who have now lost 10 games in a row.
Jeremy Lin had 13 points and six assists and Francisco Garcia scored 15 for Houston.
Both teams were sloppy much of the night and combined for 37 turnovers. The Suns went 9 for 23 from the field in the third quarter, but trailed only 78-74.
The Rockets could never shake the Suns, a team they beat by 30 on March 13.
Lin sank a pull-up jumper in the lane to put the Rockets up 96-95, but Scola calmly sank another hook shot with 1:39 to go and Phoenix moved back ahead.
O’Neal blocked an Asik shot, and Scola’s free throw with 53.5 seconds left in the game made the score 98-96.
O’Neal fouled Lin on a drive with 35 seconds left, and Lin sank the free throws to tie it again. Scola missed a finger roll, the Rockets rebounded and called time out to set up the final play.
The Rockets went 6 for 30 from 3-point range and Harden’s shot looked like it was going to miss, too.
It counted, though, and Houston is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Houston led most of the game, and Garcia sank consecutive 3-pointers and Houston opened an early eight-point lead.
Garcia was starting for Chandler Parsons, who sat out for the third straight game with a right calf strain.
The Suns missed 14 of 20 shots in the first quarter. O’Neal, back after missing the Suns’ last game with a bruised shin, started 0 for 5 from the field.
Jared Dudley started the second quarter with a 3-pointer, then got whistled for a technical foul for shoving Beverley as the fought for a loose ball. Houston’s shooting slipped in the second quarter, and Scola flipped in a hook shot to cut the deficit to 38-36.
The Rockets went 6 minutes without a field goal until Greg Smith broke free inside for a dunk.
But Wesley Johnson sank a deep jumper and Scola hit a mid-range shot to put Phoenix up 49-47 with just over a minute left in the half.
The Suns led 53-51 at the break after the Rockets went 7 for 17 from the field and gave away seven turnovers in the second quarter.
Both teams coughed up sloppy turnovers that led to easy baskets early in the third quarter.
The Rockets managed to build an eight-point lead after Smith made an acrobatic move to score on an alley-oop pass from Lin.
Markieff Morris sank a 3-pointer and Scola converted a three-point play to keep Phoenix close.
The Rockets will next take on the Memphis Grizzlies at the Toyota Center in Houston as they try to catch the Golden State Warriors for the sixth seed in the Western Conference.