NEW ORLEANS (AP) — As usual, scoring comes in concentrated bursts for James Harden.
Harden scored 19 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter and the Houston Rockets beat the short-handed New Orleans Pelicans 122-116 yesterday.
The NBA’s leading scorer has averaged 40.6 points in his last eight games, but missed nine of his first 10 three-point shots. Still, with Houston leading by four midway through the fourth quarter, Harden lit his personal fuse and scored 13 consecutive points in a 1:57 span to push the advantage to 110-93.
“I wasn’t really getting to the rim,” Harden said. “The first three quarters I was settling and kind of just being passive. So, I just wanted to be more aggressive, whether it was shooting my shot or getting to the basket.”
Russell Westbrook had 26 points and Clint Capela added 11 points and 20 rebounds to help the Rockets to their fourth straight win.
JJ Redick had 24 points, Josh Hart scored 19, and Jrue Holiday added 18 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds for New Orleans, which played without leading-scorer Brandon Ingram due to a sore right knee.
The Pelicans could not overcome 12 first-half turnovers – six by Holiday in the first half alone – and 29 per cent shooting from three-point range in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve just got to start valuing the basketball and we’ve got to stop making the bad turnover,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “You shoot 45 threes – you’ve got to make more than 14 of them.”
The Rockets led 95-82 early in the fourth quarter on Westbrook’s dunk, but the Pelicans pulled to 97-93 on a four-point play by Redick. Harden then took control with his scoring burst.
“It’s go time,” Harden said. “The fourth quarter is winning time, so you’ve got to be more aggressive and make plays whenever they come to you, whether it’s my shot or getting to the basket, shooting my floater or making the right play.”
He started the run by splitting defenders for driving layups on consecutive possessions and then made back-to-back three-pointers, including one for a four-point play. By the time Harden made two free throws to end the run, Houston led by 17 with 5:20 left.
“It’s what he does,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “It shouldn’t have been (just a four-point lead). We have to close games out. We have to play better. We have to play smart, and tonight I didn’t think we did. Good enough to win? OK, but that’s not what we want to be.”
The Rockets committed 17 turnovers and shot just 29.3 per cent from the perimeter.
Harden and Westbrook missing 14 of their first 16 attempts on three-pointers, and finished a combined four for 19 from long range. But they did enough with mid-range jumpers and layups.
The Rockets built a 42-31 lead midway through the second quarter, but the Pelicans used an 18-9 run, with eight points coming from Hart, to trim the deficit to 51-49. Despite shooting just four for 19 from three-point range, Houston led 58-52 at the half.
Harden struggled early from long range, missing his first four shots. The Pelicans stayed within striking distance on the strength of Redick’s three-point shooting (four of six) for 12 first-half points.