BOSTON (AP) — James Harden and the Houston Rockets are at their best when they are knocking down three-pointers, getting points in the paint and racking up points to the foul line.
They did all three against the Boston Celtics and it added up to a mostly easy outing against a team that is continuing to struggle.
Harden had 42 points before fouling out late in the fourth quarter and Houston held on to beat Boston 115-104 last Sunday for its fifth straight victory.
Harden made six three-pointers and scored 40 or more points for the 24th time this season. Houston entered the day in fifth place in the Western Conference standings, a game behind of fourth-place Oklahoma City.
Eric Gordon added 32 points and had eight three-pointers.
“We’re finally healthy, so yeah. It feels good,” Harden said. “We winning, guys know their roles, we’re executing defensively, we’re helping each other out, we’re talking. That’s all it’s about.”
Boston has lost five of six since returning from the All-Star break. Kyrie Irving led the Celtics with 24 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Al Horford finished with 19 points.
Boston did a decent job trying to contain Harden, limiting him to 14-of-31 shooting from the field and nine free throw attempts.
But the Celtics were inefficient when they had the ball, shooting 48 per cent (37 of 77) for the game and 29 per cent (eight of 28) from beyond the arc.
The Celtics started the fourth quarter with a 17-6 run to cut what had been a 28-point deficit to 106-96 with 6:08 to play.
Terry Rozier got fouled on a three-pointer at the five-minute mark, but missed all three free throws.
It was 109-100 when Nene’s rebound gave Houston a second opportunity after a Gordon miss. It wound up in Harden’s hands and he stepped back and swished his final three of the game to push the lead back up to 12.
But leading 112-104 Harden fouled out when he was called for an offensive foul with 1:44 left.
The Celtics came up empty on their next trip down the floor and they were forced to foul after failing to corral Austin Rivers’ miss from deep.
Boston earned its first victory since the All-Star break last Friday night against Washington. But on Sunday the Celtics fell back into many of the same bad habits that had caused them to lose four straight prior to that win over the Wizards.
Horford said he couldn’t point to just one thing as the main culprit of their issues right now.
“We’ve had some good moments. But right now, unfortunately, we’re going through a really bad stretch,” Horford said.
“This is when our group needs to make sure that we stay together.”
Things don’t get any easier for Boston, which plays its next four on the road. Its trip out West begins with a match-up against Golden State and ends with games against the Lakers and Clippers.