Harden on fire as Rockets down Cleveland Cavaliers
James Harden exploded for 38 points as the Houston Rockets jolted LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers with a 117-112 victory on Sunday.
Harden led the scoring and completed his 16th triple-double of the season with 10 rebounds and 11 assists as the Rockets improved to 46-21 to strengthen their grip on third spot in the Western Conference standings.
Harden was one of six Houston players to make double figures, with Ryan Anderson the next top scorer with 16 points while Patrick Beverley and Eric Gordon both weighed in with 13 apiece.
Cleveland, who fell to 43-22, were reliant of James and Kyrie Irving to provide the bulk of their points.
James led the Cavs scoring with 30 points while Irving weighed with 28. Only one other Cleveland player — Richard Jefferson with 16 — made double figures at Houston’s Toyota Center.
With the exception of James and Irving, a weary Cavs line-up looked to be suffering after-effects from Saturday’s road game in Orlando, where no fewer than seven players had posted double figures.
Harden’s virtuoso display ultimately tipped a back-and-forth battle Houston’s way.
The 27-year-old point guard’s 11-point third quarter was crucial as Houston wiped out a nine-point halftime deficit to haul the Rockets back into the contest.
A high-quality game saw both teams exchange a series of long-range field goals in the opening period.
Cleveland looked to have taken a grip on the game with a red-hot shooting spree which saw them drain six consecutive three-pointers.
Jefferson was responsible for three of those efforts as Cleveland went 57-45 ahead early in the third period.
But Harden led Houston back into the game and the Rockets’ superior depth of scoring ultimately told in the fourth quarter.
– Celtics gore Bulls –
In Boston, the Celtics crushed visiting Chicago 100-80 to leave the Bulls reflecting on a fifth straight loss.
Avery Bradley had 17 points and grabbed six rebounds while Al Horford contributed 12 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Celtics, who scored the first 13 points and cruised to victory.
The Celtics improved to 42-25, just behind Washington (41-24) and leaders Cleveland. The Bulls slid to 31-35, 10th in the East and 1 1/2 games behind Milwaukee for the final playoff berth.
The Bulls managed only 26 points in the first half, the fewest allowed the first two quarters by Boston all season.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens was satisfied with Boston’s ruthless approach against a side struggling for confidence.
“That’s an easy game to kind of make an excuse about and not play the best you can,” Stevens said. “I thought our guys came out doing the right thing.”
Added Isaiah Thomas: “We played hard, we got loose balls, we defended multiple actions.”
Bulls star Dwyane Wade, who finished with only eight points, said Chicago were still “experimenting.”
“As I said the other day, we’re going to take some lumps. Some of them are going to be big lumps. Some of them going to be small lumps. Tonight was a big one,” said Wade, who was coy when asked about the hunger of his team-mates to reach the playoffs.
“You have to ask each individual that question. I can’t answer for everybody. I’m here, I’ll show up the next game. Try to do what I can.”
The Indiana Pacers meanwhile maintained their playoff drive with a hard-earned 102-98 win over the Miami Heat, Paul George steering them to victory in a tense battle.
George rallied the Pacers superbly after the Heat recovered from 93-85 down to take the lead with nine unanswered points with 4:10 to go in the fourth quarter.
George hit a three-pointer to put the Pacers back in front before the hosts held on to clinch a 102-98 victory which saw them improve to 34-32.
“We finished it, that’s something we build on,” George said. “You got to see the positive, we held on to the lead and won the game.”
The Pacers improved to 34-32 with the win, while Miami slipped to 32-35, just outside the playoff positions.
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