Greg Smith scored 17 of his career-high 21 points in the second half to help spark a furious late comeback that catapulted the Houston Rockets to a 107-105 win over the slumping Los Angeles Lakers at Toyota Center.
Smith went 7-of-8 from the field and pulled down nine rebounds as well, while fellow reserve Toney Douglas dropped in a season-best 22 points to help the Rockets post their fifth victory in six games despite an off-shooting night from James Harden and trailing by 13 points with under 9 1/2 minutes left.
Harden finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, but made just 3-of-19 field goal attempts. His slump was offset by a huge effort from the Houston bench, with Carlos Delfino adding 15 points in addition to Smith and Douglas' big games to rally the Rockets to their sixth consecutive home triumph.
"We had a lot of guys struggle but our bench was good," Rockets coach Kelvin Sampson said. "There is a lot to be said about playing the entire 48 minutes and having guys on the bench that you trust that can come through."
Playing without injured stars Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, the Lakers received 39 points from Kobe Bryant and a 16-point, 12-rebound performance from Dwight Howard. However, Los Angeles failed to hold onto a lead that was as much as 17 points and lost for the third time in its last four outings.
Poor free-throw shooting down the stretch played a role in the Lakers' demise, with Los Angeles hitting just 7-of-13 foul shots in a fourth quarter in which it was outscored by a 34-22 margin. The Rockets repeatedly fouled Howard, a 46.5 percent shooter from the line on the season, during the final stages, with the big man going only 5-of-10 over that span.
The Lakers were in control for most of the way, opening up a 13-point differential during the first quarter and carrying a seemingly comfortable 58-45 advantage into halftime. Los Angeles was up by a 75-59 count with less than 5 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter, and owned a 90-77 lead after Jordan Hill's 3-point play with 9:39 to go.
Down by 11 with seven minutes left, Douglas and Smith led a 10-2 run that pulled Houston within 94-91 heading into the final 4 1/2 minutes. The spread went down to two after Harden sank a pair of free throws to make the score 97-95 with 3:13 to play, then one after Smith scored underneath following Howard going 1-of-2 from the charity stripe.
The Rockets again used the strategy of sending Howard to the line on the next possession, with the All-Star again hitting 1-of-2 shots to put Los Angeles up 99-97 with 2:57 remaining. Douglas nailed a 3-pointer just seconds afterward, however, giving Houston its first edge of the game with 2:38 left.
Three more Howard free throws put the Lakers back on top, 102-100, but another Smith layup tied it and Bryant missed a pair of shots. Harden and Smith were each fouled after both attempts, and they both converted to give Houston a four-point lead with 15.7 seconds on the clock.
A Bryant triple trimmed the deficit back to one and Douglas made 1-of-2 from the line to give Los Angeles a chance trailing 107-105. Bryant misfired on a 3-point attempt, however, and Metta World Peace couldn't hit a follow-up shot before Smith corralled the rebound as time ran out.
"That's just a strategy that teams are employing and we have to figure out the best strategy to defend it," Bryant said about teams fouling Howard. "We've talked about it a little bit. He just has to keep working at it all the time and keep practicing and doing it over and over until he turns it into a strength."
The Lakers clamped down on Harden all throughout the night, with the Houston standout making good on just 1-of-10 field goal attempts and turning the ball over three times during a first half in which the Rockets were down by a 13 points at the buzzer.
Houston had a far more difficult time slowing Bryant, who poured in 21 points prior to the break to stake Los Angeles to a comfortable 58-45 lead.
Bryant had 14 points in the first quarter, nine of which came during a 12-5 sequence over a span of two-plus minutes that turned a six-point edge into a 26-13 Lakers' advantage with 3:27 left in the period.
Houston would get as close as five points down in the second quarter, but a 13-4 spurt capped by Bryant's driving layup put the Lakers up 51-35 with under four minutes left in the half.
Smith's previous career best was 13 points, set against Utah on Dec. 1 ... The Rockets' six-game winning streak at the Toyota Center is their longest since a 7-game run from Mar. 14-Apr. 3, 2011 ... Houston has now won 24 of its last 26 home outings in December ... Gasol sat out the contest with knee tendinitis and could be sidelined indefinitely ... The Lakers went 22-of-34 overall from the foul line, with Howard finishing 8-of-16, while the Rockets made good on 24-of-31 chances.