HOUSTON - Even the coolly efficient Tim Duncan gets impressed by the manic style of Manu Ginobli.
Duncan scored 28 points and Ginobili hit two driving layups in the final minute as the San Antonio Spurs almost blew a 13-point lead before holding off the Houston Rockets 85-82 Monday night.
It was San Antonio’s fifth straight victory and fourth in a row on the road. The Spurs beat the Rockets for the sixth straight time.
Ginobili’s teammates have learned to expect such wild drives.
“He’s a little crazy,” Duncan said. “He doesn’t think too much. Him taking on anyone is not a shock. He took over down the stretch. He made three incredible moves against Yao.”
The Spurs led 67-54 with 10:37 left, but the Rockets tied it 78-78 with 2:01 to play on a jumper by Yao Ming off a pass from Steve Francis.
Duncan tipped in the go-ahead basket with 1:38 to play and Ginobili fought his way through the lane twice for layups. He then hit a free throw for the final point of the game.
Ginobili and Robert Horry each had 13 points for San Antonio. Duncan had 10 rebounds for his 42nd double-double in 49 games.
“I just saw I had an advantage against Yao, so I threw it up as high as I could,” Ginobili said. “You don’t think about who’s defending you, you just take it up strong and hope it goes in or you get fouled.”
Francis missed a desperation 3-pointer as the game ended. It wasn’t the play Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy wanted.
“We tried to pick-and-roll and they did a good job,” Van Gundy said. “They’re a great team. We could have taken a quick two, too, but they defended it well.”
Coach Gregg Popovich thought the Spurs defended the final shot well.
“We switched everything on that last play,” Popovich said. “Robert Horry did a great job. He came out of Francis and Tony (Parker) switched back. It was a good defensive possession for us.”
Yao finished with 25 points and Francis had 18 points and 11 rebounds.
The loss snapped Houston’s three-game winning streak.
Trailing 32-20 in the second quarter, the Rockets used a 15-6 run to cut San Antonio’s lead to 38-35 at the end of the half. Francis had six points in the spurt on a free throw, a 3-point basket and a turnaround jumper.
Francis also missed a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer that would have tied the score.
Trailing 16-14 in the first quarter, the Spurs went on an 8-0 surge at the end of the period. Duncan tied it with a jumper, Ginobili followed with a steal and layup, and Duncan ended it with a 15-foot banked jumper and a baseline drive.
“We take him for granted like we did David Robinson,” Popovich said of Duncan. “Nothing happens without him. He scores, he rebounds and he defends. He was magnificent again.”
San Antonio continued the run in the second quarter and ended up with an 18-4 charge and the 32-20 lead, the biggest of the first half.
“I thought we were mentally tougher tonight than we have been when things were not going well,” Van Gundy said.
Notes: Three Western Conference All-Star starters played in the game: Tim Duncan, Yao Ming and Steve Francis. ... The Rockets are 20-10 this season when Francis has more than five assists, and they are 9-12 when he has five or fewer assists. ... New Astros pitcher Roger Clemens was the courtside guest of Rockets owner Les Alexander. ... Clemens took part in an on-court skit during a time-out. He pitched inside to a batter in a Spurs jersey and a mock scuffle ensued. Clemens stayed out of the fake melee.
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