HOUSTON -- James Harden had 20 points and the Houston Rockets slowed down the soaring San Antonio Spurs with an 88-84 victory Friday night.
The improved Houston defense held the Spurs to a season low in points to snap their season-best seven-game winning streak.
Houston used an 8-2 run to take a 78-71 lead with about five minutes left. Tim Duncan made a hook shot after that, but Harden hit a 3-pointer. A layup by Duncan came next before Harden brought the crowd to its feet with an off-balance 3-pointer from the corner that made it 84-75.
The Spurs resorted to the Hack-A-Howard tactic soon after that, intentionally fouling Dwight Howard on two straight possessions. He missed all four free throws, and a basket by LaMarcus Aldridge got the Spurs to 86-81.
Kawhi Leonard made a 3-pointer after two free throws by Houston to allow San Antonio to cut the lead to four, but he missed a shot a few seconds later and Houston held on for the victory.
Leonard had 20 points to lead San Antonio. The Spurs struggled on long-range shooting, making just 5 of 19 3-pointers.
It was the first time the Rockets have hosted a game on Christmas since they moved to Houston. The last time the franchise hosted a Christmas game was in 1967 when the team was in San Diego.
The Rockets led by one after three and scored the first nine points of the fourth quarter, powered by five points from Jason Terry, to make it 70-60 with about 10 minutes remaining.
San Antonio got its first points of the quarter soon after that on a 3-pointer by David West to start a 9-0 run that cut it to 70-69. Leonard highlighted that run with a running two-handed dunk.
A layup by Aldridge pushed San Antonio's lead to seven points early in the third quarter before Houston used a 13-4 run to take a 51-49 lead with about seven minutes left in the quarter. Pat Beverley got that spurt going with a 3-pointer and Harden made the next six points in that span.
The Spurs had turnovers on four straight possessions near the end of Houston's run.
A jump shot by Boris Diaw got San Antonio to 59-58 with about 2 1/2 minutes left in the quarter. After that both teams struggled to score and missed their next seven shots combined.
It was Diaw who finally ended the drought when he made a layup with less than a minute remaining. Ty Lawson made Houston's first field goal in almost four minutes after that to leave the Rockets up 61-60 entering the fourth quarter.
San Antonio scored the last seven points of the second quarter to take a 43-38 lead at halftime.
Spurs: Aldridge added 18 points and rebounds. ... Duncan had 12 points and 11 rebounds. ... Leonard made just 8 of 19 shots, and Aldridge was 9 of 17.
Rockets: Houston has won four in a row on Christmas, with the previous victory also coming over San Antonio in 2013. ... Howard had 11 points and 12 rebounds. ... Terry finished with 12 points.
Spurs: Host Denver on Saturday.
Rockets: Visit New Orleans on Saturday.