Harden takes charge in clutch as Rockets blow 17-point lead but recover to beat Nuggets
James Harden dropped 15 straight points for Houston in the second half of the fourth quarter. AP

JAMES Harden took charge down the stretch in helping the Houston Rockets recover from squandering a 17-point first-half lead and fending off a late Denver Nuggets rally for a 110-104 win at the Toyota Center on Wednesday (Thursday, Manila time).

Harden finished with 31 points, scoring five of Houston’s last seven points in the final minute to put away a late-game charge by Denver after coming back from a 50-33 deficit midway through the second quarter.

Gary Harris capped a 20-9 blitz in the third quarter to give the Nuggets their first taste of the lead, 73-71, at the 4:41 mark of the period. But the Rockets regained control with a 9-2 finish to take an 85-79 edge into the fourth.

Denver came within one, 100-99, with less than four minutes remaining before Harden took over with three points from the stripe to keep Houston up by four in the last two minutes. Nikola Jokic tipped in a miss for the Nuggets but Harden sank a booming triple on the next play and added two more free throws, capping his 15th straight point in the second half of the fourth period, to extend the gap to six with 30 ticks left.  

After a dunk by Danilo Gallinari, Eric Gordon secured Houston’s second straight win and the West third seed for the Rockets with a pair of free throws.

Nene Hilario chipped in 16 points off the bench for the Rockets (53-25), while Trevor Ariza and Clint Capela each had 15 markers.

Gallinari led the Nuggets  (37-41), who fell a full game behind the Portland Trailblazers for the final spot in the West playoffs, with 23 points. Harris added 17 markers while Wilson Chandler fired 16 off the bench.

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