JAMES Harden has proven he can hurt opposing teams with more than just scoring, and the Oklahoma City Thunder found out just that on Thursday (Friday, Manila time)
Harden found an open Nene in the paint and the Brazilian big man hit the go-ahead free throws to help the Houston Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook’s 49-point explosion and douse a searing OKC Thunder late-game rally to escape with a 118-116 win at the Toyota Center on Thursday (Friday, Manila time).
Nene hit two big free throws to put Houston up for good with 0.7 ticks left after getting fouled as he rolled open to the hoop from a pick-and-roll action with Harden. OKC tried to lob it to Enes Kanter on the last play but Kanter’s tip and the Thunder’s rally fell short despite Westbrook’s scorching performance.
Russell Westbrook was on fire from the get-go but the Rockets neutralized his exploits with a balanced attack and their three-point barrage, with five players nailing at least two triples each. Houston outscored Oklahoma City 34-18 in the second quarter to take 67-56 edge at the half.
Houston led by as much as 18 in the third quarter before Westbrook’s one man show found ample support in the Thunder’s fourth quarter rally.
Trailing 100-86 early in the period, Victor Oladipo and Kanter started the OKC comeback with an 18-7 blitz. Westbrook then found Oladipo open for a corner triple to give the Thunder their first lead since the second quarter, 116-114, with 1:54 left.
Harden sank a pair of free throws to tie the game, but his three point attempt to take the lead got blocked by Andre Roberson with 27 ticks remaining. Westbrook’s three-pointer rimmed out on the next play, setting up Harden’s brilliant pass on Nene in the final Rockets possession to clinch the win.
Houston has now won six straight games and improved to 28-9. Harden was two rebounds short of a triple-double with 26 points, 12 assists and eight boards. Eric Gordon had 22 off the bench, including five triples, while Nene finished with 18 markers.
Westbrook finished with 49 points, hitting a career-high eight treys, to go with eight rebounds and five assists. But the Thunder lost their third game in a row to fall to 21-16. Oladipo and Kanter added 17 and 15, respectively.