LOS ANGELES: Brazil’s Nene drained two clutch free throws with 0.7 seconds left on the clock to lift the Houston Rockets to a 118-116 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday (Friday in Manila).
James Harden nearly had a triple-double for the Rockets with 26 points, eight rebounds and 12 assists as Nene added a season-high 18 points.
All five Rockets starters scored in double figures and Eric Gordon came off the bench to score 22.
The game-deciding drama started with an inbounds play with three seconds left. Nene set a screen for Harden and drove to the basket. Harden passed out of the double team, hitting Nene in stride and forcing Thunder forward Jerami Grant to commit the foul.
“They (the Thunder) did a good job (setting up defensively) on the first play so we called a timeout,” Harden said. “I just got open and I saw two defenders guarding me, made the simple play to Nene and he knocked down two free throws.”
The Rockets win spoiled a dynamic performance from Russell Westbrook who made a career-high eight three pointers en route to a 49-point night.
Westbrook shot 16 of 34 as Oklahoma City nearly overcame an 18-point deficit after blowing an early 14-point lead.
Victor Oladipo nailed a shot from beyond the arc for a 116-114 lead with 1:55 remaining. The Thunder dominated the Rockets on the boards in the fourth period, getting 13 rebounds in total from Enes Kanter, who also had 15 points.
Elsewhere, a determined Kyle Lowry led the charge by scoring 33 points as the Toronto Raptors returned home from a road trip and knocked off the Utah Jazz 101-93.
DeMar DeRozan gave Toronto its first lead with 3:08 remaining and contributed 23 points and seven rebounds.
Jonas Valanciunas added 18 points and 13 rebounds for Toronto, which just completed a six-game road trip.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey said Lowry outworks his opponents.
“I’ll tell you what, if it’s a loose ball down there, he’s like a little pit bull,” Casey said. “That’s why he is who he is. He’s been that way since high school and it’s not going to change. He took over the game down the stretch.”
Shelvin Mack led Utah with 17 points while starting his third straight game for injured George Hill. Gordon Hayward added 16 and Rudy Gobert finished with 15 points and 16 rebounds.
In Portland, Damian Lillard returned from an ankle injury to spark the Trail Blazers to a 115-109 victory over the lowly Los Angeles Lakers.
CJ McCollum had 27 points and seven assists and Lillard chipped in 21 points and 10 assists as the Trail Blazers won for the fourth time in their last 16 outings.
Evan Turner scored a season-high 20 points off the bench and Mason Plumlee contributed 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists for Portland.
D’Angelo Russell scored 22 points, Jordan Clarkson added 21 and Julius Randle had 17 points for the Lakers, who lost for the 16th time in 19 contests.
The Blazers used a late 13-1 run to erase a four-point deficit and provide the cushion needed to get the win.
In New Orleans, Dennis Schroder scored 22 points and hit the go-ahead three-pointer with 1:13 remaining to lift Atlanta to a 99-94 win over New Orleans.
Guard Kyle Korver headed to Cavaliers?
The Atlanta Hawks are on the verge of finalizing a trade that would see guard Kyle Korver join the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers, the US media reported on Friday.
The 35-year-old Korver did not play in Atlanta’s 99-94 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans and told reporters after the contest that he believed he was being dealt.
“What can I say about it?” Korver said. “It will definitely be mixed emotions.
“This is where I had my best basketball career, honestly. It’s where I had all my kids, so it’s hard to leave that behind.
“Obviously, it’s a great opportunity for me to go to Cleveland. I’m very excited about that part, but there’s definitely a lot of relationships that care a lot about here that I’m going to miss.”
Atlanta will reportedly receive a 2019 first-round pick and reserve Mike Dunleavy, according to Yahoo Sports, and ESPN reported that reserve Mo Williams may also be going back to Atlanta in the deal.
Korver is a three-point shooting specialist who is averaging 9.5 points and 40.9 percent shooting from beyond the arc this season.
The former second-round pick of the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2003 NBA entry draft is a lifetime 42.9 percent three-point shooter.
Guard Dennis Schroder scored a game-high 23 points, including a go-ahead three-pointer with 73 seconds left, and forward Paul Millsap added a 15-foot jumper with 38 seconds left to cement the victory for Atlanta.
It was the Hawks’ fifth consecutive win and their 10th in the last 14 games. Schroder and Millsap combined for the Hawks’ final 11 points.
“It’s tough, man,” Millsap said of Korver’s apparent exit. “But to see him on the bench and continue to cheer us on knowing that he’s going to another team — to me, that means a lot. It says it’s a lot about his personality and his character.
“For a guy to be traded and know that he’s going on another team but continue to support his teammates, to continue to support us, says a lot about who he is.”