OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Houston Rockets are trying to hang on to the third seed in the Western Conference and they got a boost from an unlikely, finger-wagging source.
Dikembe Mutombo, who turns 43 in June, made a rare start in place of injured center Yao Ming and came up with his biggest game in more than a year, scoring 10 points and grabbing 15 rebounds to lead the Rockets to a 113-109 win over the Golden State Warriors on Friday.
"All I knew was if I could go out and do the things I love to do, which is playing defense, rebounding, blocking shots and controlling the paint, our team would have a chance to win," said Mutombo, who added four blocked shots while logging a season-high 36 minutes.
"I was a little bit surprised when coach walked in and said, 'Deke, you're going tonight.' I just had to switch myself up mentally and get myself going."
The 7-foot-2 Mutombo did just that and kept the Rockets in the thick of the chase for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Portland and San Antonio both won Friday and remain a half-game behind Houston for the third spot in the West. The Rockets also pulled within one game of second-seeded Denver, which was idle.
The Rockets (52-28), winners of four straight and nine of 12, close the regular season with a home game against New Orleans on Monday, then at Dallas on Wednesday.
"It was a big win for us," said Ron Artest, who had 19 points and six assists before fouling out with 3:16 left to play. "[The Warriors] played well and they could have beat us. But guys just stayed poised, weathered the storm and pulled it out."
Luis Scola added a career-high 28 points for Houston, which completed a four-game season sweep of the Warriors.
"I have no complaints about the game," Warriors coach Don Nelson said. "We fought hard and stayed in the game ... but it wasn't to be. Mutombo came in and had an unbelievable performance and was a tremendous factor in the game."
Yao played in Houston's win over Sacramento on Thursday and took part in pregame warmups Friday, but was held out after complaining of pain in his foot. Mutombo, who had played in only eight games this season before being pressed into duty against the Warriors, made sure the Rockets wouldn't miss their All-Star center by coming up with the 471st double-double of his 17-year NBA career.
It's Mutombo's first double-double since March 19, 2008, when he had 10 points and 13 rebounds against the New Orleans Hornets.
He had five points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots in the first quarter, then added a third block in the second, wagging his right index finger each time. That was a big lift for Houston, which could ill afford a setback at this point of the season.
"It's really remarkable," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. "He was really a factor around the rim. You just can't give him enough credit for the way he can step in and play like that. He's an amazing athlete."
Turiaf was matched up against Mutombo much of the night and was equally impressed. At one point in the fourth quarter, Turiaf began peppering Mutombo with questions.
"I was like, 'Man, you're pushing me and doing all those things to throw me off- balance and the ref is not seeing it. How do you do it?" Turiaf said. "So during the game [we] were chatting about defense and it was pretty good. If he wants to play until he's 55, he's going to play until he's 55."
Anthony Morrow's 3-pointer with 6.4 seconds remaining pulled the Warriors within 109-106, but Aaron Brooks made a pair of free throws to push Houston's lead to five. Azubuike followed with another 3 for Golden State, but Brooks again answered with a pair of free throws to seal the win.
The Warriors, meanwhile, are literally limping to the end.
Point guard Jamal Crawford became the latest casualty when he was scratched from Golden State's lineup after his lower back tightened up during warmups. That left coach Don Nelson only seven healthy players -- Marco Belinelli suited up but has a sore right ankle and did not play -- a common theme for the Warriors over the past few weeks.
With Crawford out, Watson ran Golden State's offense fairly well, but it wasn't enough to keep up with the playoff-bound Rockets.
Houston led by as much as 14 in the third quarter before Golden State went on a 13-6 run to close within 86-79 heading into the final 12 minutes.
It was the 859th career victory for Adelman, who needs six more to pass former Portland coach Jack Ramsay for 11th place on the NBA's career list. ... The 15 rebounds were Mutombo's most since March 2, 2007, when he grabbed 22 against Denver.
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