SAN ANTONIO, Texas, (Reuters) – Luis Scola scored the winning layup with 11.2 seconds left to fire the Houston Rockets into first place in the Southwest, knocking the San Antonio Spurs off the top with a 87-85 victory on Sunday.
Yao Ming twice fired passes inside to Scola in the final 30 seconds to push the Rockets a half-game ahead of the Spurs for the division lead.
“I just cut down the lane,” Scola, who ended up with 19 points and 17 rebounds, told reporters. “I was wide open both times.”
Yao said he almost took a shot himself on what turned out to be the game-winner.
“I saw him at the last second,” he added. “I was going to shoot. The ball was above my head when I found him.”
The pass surprised Scola, who had moved to the basket in case Yao did shoot. “I wasn’t expecting Yao to throw it,” he said. “Fortunately, he passed it, I made it, we won.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich blamed defensive errors for the loss.
“Bad execution defensively the last three possessions was the ballgame,” he said.
Ron Artest scored 24 points to lead the Rockets (47-25) to their fourth consecutive victory.
Tim Duncan had 23 points and Tony Parker delivered 22 points and 12 rebounds for the Spurs (45-24), who dropped a half-game behind the Rockets for the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference.
“It means a lot, a lot for us,” Scola added. “It’s a huge game. We need these types of games to get ready for the playoffs.”
The Argentine gave Houston an 84-83 lead with 29 seconds to go off a pass from Yao, but Parker put San Antonio back on top with a driving layup nine seconds later.
Yao’s second pass to Scola made it an 86-85 game and Scola connected on the second of two free throws with three-tenths of a second left to wrap up the scoring.
San Antonio held a six-point lead with 3:36 to play before Houston rattled off seven consecutive points, including a putback dunk by Yao, who finished with 13 points and eight rebounds.
An Aaron Brooks’ jumper completed the run, giving the Rockets a 82-81 lead with 1:46 remaining.
San Antonio regained the lead at 83-82 on Kurt Thomas’s tip with 46 seconds to go before Yao and Scola teamed up for the winning sequence.