LOS ANGELES — Paul George outgunned James Harden in a matchup of MVP candidates, and the Oklahoma City Thunder erased a 26-point deficit to escape with a 117-112 win over the host Houston Rockets on Saturday.
George finished with a game-high 45 points plus 11 rebounds, torching the Houston defense with six 3-pointers plus 15-for-18 free throws.
George’s four free throws inside the final four seconds sealed the win after Russell Westbrook slipped through the defense to convert a layup and give the Thunder the lead for good at 113-112 with 26.9 seconds left.
Westbrook matched an NBA record set by Wilt Chamberlain with his ninth consecutive triple-double: 21 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists. The Thunder posted a 53-39 edge on the glass.
Harden totaled 42 points, his 29th consecutive game with at least 30, but he missed a contested 3-pointer after Westbrook pushed the Thunder ahead.
Chris Paul nearly posted a triple-double (18 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists) in his strongest performance since his return from a hamstring injury.
The Thunder matched the Rockets’ 42-point second quarter with a 42-point third period, keyed by 7-for-12 3-point shooting. After committing just two turnovers in the first half, the Rockets had six in the third quarter and collapsed with 1-for-9 shooting from behind the arc.
Still, the Rockets led 86-79 before Thunder guard Dennis Schroder closed the frame with 11 consecutive points to pull Oklahoma City even at 90-all entering the fourth. Less than three minutes into the final frame, the Thunder led 98-92, and the Rockets were left scrambling.
Two runs sparked the Rockets’ run to their 26-point lead in the first half.
Westbrook pulled the Thunder even with a midrange bank shot at the 1:47 mark of the first quarter before Houston bridged the opening two frames with an 11-0 burst that featured treys from Iman Shumpert, making his Rockets debut, Gerald Green, and Austin Rivers.
When Paul capped that rally with a midrange jumper, the Rockets led 36-25, and Oklahoma City struggled to build momentum against its lackadaisical ball security and the Rockets’ perimeter shooting.
Houston had pushed its lead to 58-42 despite a mini-surge from Westbrook before landing what appeared to be a devastating blow: a 10-0 run that included 3-pointers from Paul and Harden plus three Harden free throws after Paul converted a technical assessed against George for protesting a call.
The Rockets were 12 of 24 from deep late in the first half before missing five consecutive 3-pointers, leave the door ajar for a comeback.
RAPTORS SURVIVE KNICKS IN GASOL’S DEBUT
Kyle Lowry scored a game-high 22 points and hit the 3-pointer with 7:03 remaining that gave the Toronto Raptors the lead for good Saturday night in a 104-99 win over the host New York Knicks.
Serge Ibaka registered a double-double (15 points and 13 rebounds) for the Raptors, who have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference (41-16) and have won four consecutive games. Danny Green scored 14 points and sank three straight 3-pointers in the fourth for Toronto. Norman Powell also had 14 points, while Kawhi Leonard (11) and Pascal Siakam (10) also scored in double figures.
Marc Gasol, playing his first game for the Raptors since he was acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday, scored seven points and pulled down six rebounds in 19 minutes as a reserve. Gasol came off the bench for the first time since his rookie season in 2008-09.
Kevin Knox scored 20 points, and DeAndre Jordan posted a double-double with 10 points and 18 rebounds for the Knicks, who tied a franchise record by losing their 16th straight game. Mitchell Robinson scored 15 points, Kadeem Allen added 14 points and Dennis Smith Jr. chipped in with 13 points and six assists for New York, which has the worst record in the NBA (10-45) and has dropped 24 of 25 and 29 of its last 31 games.
Despite the vast difference in fortunes between the teams, the Knicks gave the Raptors all they could handle Saturday.
After Leonard opened the game with a 3-pointer, the Knicks scored the next 14 points. They also tied the game three times early in the fourth quarter before Robinson’s old-fashioned three-point play gave them an 86-85 lead — their first since a 38-36 advantage with 3:48 left in the second quarter.
But Lowry responded for the Raptors with his go-ahead three. After Jordan missed a pair of free throws, Green drained three 3-pointers during a 9-4 run — interrupted only by a pair of free throws and a layup from Allen — to give Toronto a 97-90 lead with 3:28 left.
The Knicks closed within 99-96 on Knox’s 3-pointer with 1:59 left. They had two chances to get within one, but Mario Hezonja and Smith each missed jumpers, and the Raptors iced the game by hitting five of their final six free throws. — Reuters