HOUSTON (AP) — After James Harden and Russell Westbrook combined for 78 points on Tuesday night, Harden was asked just how dangerous this combination can be when it gets rolling.
“It’s pretty scary,” Harden said.
Harden scored 42 points, Westbrook had 36 and Houston snapped Boston’s seven-game win streak with a 116-105 victory over the Celtics in a game that showcased the Rockets’ dynamic small-ball lineup.
Harden had eight rebounds and seven assists and Westbrook finished with 10 rebounds and five assists as the Rockets used a starting lineup without a true centre after trading Clint Capela last week.
“It’s helping both of them,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “It should. It opens up the floor for them. Both of them are great drivers and great finishers … and it should trickle down to everybody else, too.”
Houston broke it open with a 15-2 run that made it 116-98 with about two minutes left. Harden scored six points during the decisive stretch, and Danuel House had five.
Boston had two turnovers and missed numerous shots to allow the Rockets to turn the close game into one where D’Antoni cleared the bench for the last minute with the game well in hand.
“Harden was great … and Westbrook was great,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “Those guys are two of the best in the world and they showed it again tonight.”
The Rockets enjoyed a big advantage at the line, going 37 for 42 compared to 20 for 25 for the Celtics. Harden made 17 of 18 foul shots.
Gordon Hayward had 20 points in Boston’s first loss since January 26. Jaylen Brown scored 19, and Jayson Tatum had 15 on 5-for-15 shooting.
Westbrook, who is in his first season in Houston after a trade from Oklahoma City, is excited for the possibilities for this lineup once they have more experience with it.
“We can be pretty successful,” he said. “We’ve just got to find ways to continue to be effective, efficient and make the right plays.”
Harden, who scored 19 points in the third quarter to help Houston take control, picked up his fifth foul with about eight minutes left. But he was able to stay in the game and avoid fouling out.
Robert Covington had 12 points and seven rebounds in his fourth game since he was acquired as part of the four-team trade that sent Capela to the Hawks.
The Rockets were up by seven with about eight minutes left when Harden picked up three fouls in about 30 seconds. The Celtics then closed to 96-94 on Brown’s three-pointer and a dunk by Tatum with 5:40 to go.
But Houston made five straight free throws to push the lead to 101-94 before making the big run to put the game away.