James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets brings the ball up court during the game against the San Antonio Spurs during Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2017 Playoffs on May 7, 2017 at the Toyota Center in Houston. Credit: Jesse D. Garrabrant / NBAE via Getty Images

HOUSTON – Desperation was inspiration for the Houston Rockets when they took to the Toyota Center court for Game 4 of their NBA Western Conference Semifinals playoff series against the Spurs.

They understood the daunting prospect of returning to San Antonio if they lost Sunday night’s game and fell behind 3-1, with Game 5 to be played on Tuesday night at AT&T Center.

“You’ve got to win four [games],” Rockets guard Eric Gordon said before tipoff. “They don’t tell you how you get there. You get there any which way, whatever it takes. If we win we’re 2-2. If we don’t we’re [down] 3-1 and we’ve really got our work cut out. This is obviously the game you need.”

Gordon then followed by making 6-of-9 3-point shots and scoring 22 points to help Houston get a 125-104 win that knots the series at two games a piece.

Rockets MVP candidate James Harden led all scorers with 28 points, adding 12 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals.

The Spurs were guilty of defensive sins of both omission and commission in their feeble attempts to slow the Rockets running game, and Gregg Popovich delivered a Sunday sermon on their defensive  transgressions.

“For us, our Bible begins with transition defense,” the three-time NBA Coach of the Year said. “If it’s not there, we’re just not ready to go. If you’d have seen

clips of our transition defense you would have traded all the players and fired me by the end of the game. It was that bad.

“But, [the Rockets] were intense, and they were that focused, and they were that professional, and we were not.”

The Rockets put up 43 3-point shots and made 19 of them, just four shy of their total from both Games 2 and 3. It was the second-most 3-pointers made against the Spurs in any playoff game, exceeded only by the 22 the Rockets made in their Game 1 blowout win.

Popovich will be back on the Spurs bench for Tuesday’s Game 5, scheduled to tip off at 7 p.m. The NBA won’t allow him to trade any of his players, so they will be on hand as well.

Don’t doubt they will be focused on the words, according to Popovich: transition defense.

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Mike Monroe

Mike Monroe is a longtime, award-winning NBA and Spurs reporter who recently retired from the Express-News and is now contributing to the Rivard Report.