Jermaine O’Neal was called for goaltending on James Harden’s last-second three-pointer as 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 when the Jazz lost to the Thunder.
On the final play, Harden dribbled down the clock with P.J. Tucker guarding him and launched a three-pointer 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 wild celebrations.
Luis Scola scored 28 to lead the Suns, who have lost 10 in a row.
Jeremy Lin had 13 points and six assists, while Francisco Garcia scored 15 for Houston.
Both teams were sloppy much of the night and combined for 37 turnovers. The Suns went nine 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 minute, 39 seconds to go and Phoenix moved back ahead.
O’Neal blocked an Asik shot and Scola’s free throw with 53.5 seconds left made it 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 six for 30 from three-point range and Harden’s shot looked like it was going to miss, too. It counted, though, and Houston are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Houston led most of the game. Garcia sank consecutive early three-pointers and Houston opened an early eight-point lead.
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 none for five from the field.
Jared Dudley started the second quarter with a three-pointer, then got whistled for a technical foul for shoving Beverley.
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 six 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 seven 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 a pass from Lin. Markieff Morris sank a three-pointer and Scola converted a three-point play to keep Phoenix close.