HOUSTON — James Harden poured in a game-high 47 points and served as the closer down the stretch of the Houston Rockets’ 102-93 win over the visiting Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday at Toyota Center.
After Kawhi Leonard provided the Clippers an 86-85 lead with a fading jumper in the paint, Harden converted a driving layup and then drilled a 3-pointer as Houston reclaimed a 90-86 advantage. With just over 90 seconds to play, Harden nailed a dagger 3 for a 95-88 lead.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers was ejected immediately thereafter. Houston extended its winning streak to five games. Harden shot 7 of 13 on 3s, grabbed six boards and had seven assists.
Russell Westbrook added 17 points, despite 6-for-20 shooting, for the Rockets while center Clint Capela posted his third consecutive 20-rebound game, pairing 12 points with 20 boards before departing after a collision with Clippers forward JaMychal Green late in the fourth quarter.
Leonard, who gave the Clippers their first lead at 84-80 with a four-point play at the 6:52 mark of the fourth, paced the Clippers with 26 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Lou Williams chipped in 20 points off the bench and Green delivered a double-double (14 points, 14 boards).
The Rockets’ fast start, bolstered by 14 paint points in their 31-point first period, fizzled quickly in the second. With Westbrook benched after accumulating four fouls in the first quarter, the Clippers focused their defense exclusively on Harden. That meant Leonard had the assignment.
Houston extended to a 36-19 lead on a Tucker 3 early in the second period, added a Capela alley-oop roughly two minutes later and then went five minutes without a point. Leonard and Williams pulled the Clippers to within 38-33 before the Rockets found some juice, with Tucker and Harden burying three 3s before Harden added a floater with 16 seconds remaining.
The Rockets led 49-37 at the intermission, their points surrendered the fewest in any half this season. But when the Clippers started running their offense through center Ivica Zubac to start the second half, the Rockets again hit a slump and opened the door for the Clippers to rally.
MAGIC PULL AWAY FROM EMBIID-LESS 76ERS
Nikola Vucevic collected 25 points and 12 rebounds as the host Orlando Magic pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 112-97 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday.
Aaron Gordon added a double-double of his own with 18 points and 13 rebounds, along with seven assists, for Orlando, which outscored Philadelphia by a 32-15 margin in the fourth quarter.
The Magic improved to 78-38 all-time versus the 76ers for a .672 win percentage, their highest against any opponent.
Terrence Ross and Evan Fournier each had 13 points as Orlando had seven players score in double figures to post just its second win in the last seven outings.
Markelle Fultz finished with eight points in his first regular-season game against the team that selected him with the first overall pick of the 2017 NBA Draft.
Josh Richardson scored 19 points and Ben Simmons added 18 for the 76ers, who have lost four in a row on the road.
Al Horford returned from a one-game absence to record 14 points on just 5-for-18 shooting in place of All-Star center Joel Embiid, who sat out after logging 35 minutes in Tuesday’s 98-97 win over Cleveland.
Ross and Fournier drained back-to-back 3-pointers to punctuate a 12-1 run early in the fourth quarter to help Orlando seize a 92-85 lead.
Tobias Harris’ basket did little to stop the momentum, as Vucevic worked the interior to score six of his team’s next 10 points as the Magic pushed their advantage to 102-89 with 3:12 remaining.
Simmons had a pair of dunks while Richardson and Furkan Korkmaz each drained a 3-pointer to highlight a 12-0 run midway into the third quarter as Philadelphia secured its biggest lead of the game at 71-63.
Orlando’s Michael Carter-Williams answered by scoring four quick points during his team’s 9-0 surge, however the former 76ers guard received a flagrant-1 while fouling Richardson on a 3-point shot. Richardson, in turn, was whistled for a technical for shoving Carter-Williams to the floor.
Philadelphia shot a robust 51.1 percent from the floor (24 of 47) and held a 36-20 edge in points in the paint during the first half, however it attempted just one foul shot. Conversely, Orlando made 13 of 17 tries from the charity stripe as the teams found themselves knotted up at 53 during intermission.
RAPTORS DUMP BLAZERS
Led by 36 points from Pascal Siakam and 30 points from Fred VanVleet, the short-handed Toronto Raptors picked up a 114-106 road victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson contributed 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Terence Davis added 15 points for the Raptors, who earned their fourth win in five games.
Damian Lillard struggled for Portland, scoring a season-low nine points on 2-of-12 shooting. Rodney Hood led the Blazers with 25 points, hitting 5 of 10 3-point attempts. Portland lost for the sixth time in seven games.
Hood caught fire in the third quarter, hitting multiple threes to give his team the narrow lead. He flashed a smile to the Blazers bench, pleased with his return to the court after missing back-to-back games due to back spasms.
But the resilience and marked improvement of Siakam showed up late in the third, and Toronto took a nine-point lead into the fourth quarter.
An 11-2 run to start the fourth for Portland tied the game up, fueled by the play of CJ McCollum (19 points). Later in the quarter, the score was 94-94 before a 14-0 run by Toronto all but sealed the game in the defending champions’ favor. Siakam scored 10 points in that sequence, capping it with a jumper for a 108-94 edge with 3:19 to go.
Rookie Nassir Little made his first career start for the Blazers, taking on the difficult task of guarding Siakam. The youngster out of North Carolina provided energy on both ends of the court and buoyed a Blazer teams looking for consistency out of its wings, holding his own in the first half against the Raptors’ best healthy player.
Little finished with seven points and five rebounds in 24 minutes.
The Raptors, like the Blazers, are dealing with plenty of injuries to key contributors. They were without OG Anunoby (eye), Kyle Lowry (thumb) and Serge Ibaka (ankle) on Wednesday night. Portland was without Jusuf Nurkic (leg), Pau Gasol (foot) and Zach Collins (shoulder).
The win improved the Raptors’ record to 3-1 on their current road trip, which concludes Saturday in Dallas.
The Blazers will travel to Texas as well for the opener of a six-game road trip, when they face the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday. — Reuters