LOS ANGELES: James Harden took full advantage of the absence of LeBron James to lead the Houston Rockets to a come-from-behind victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila).
Harden scored 27 points and eight assists as Houston overturned second half deficits of 20 and 13 points to clinch a 106-100 win.
Harden’s most telling contribution came in the fourth quarter, when he scored 18 points to help the Rockets surpass the Cleveland total.
“Even when we got down 20 points, we felt confident because they weren’t shooting the ball well,” Harden said. “Even when they were winning.”
Trevor Ariza put the seal on the fightback with a three-pointer from the corner with 17 seconds left to complete the Rockets triumph.
“In these situations, time and time again, we channel something special and unique when we get down,” Rockets coach J.B. Bickerstaff said.
“Desperation has to be the feeling, not panic when we get down — and that’s who we’ve been. Every game matters from this point on because we’re trying to extend our season.”
The Cavs meanwhile, who had opted to rest James as they prepare for the postseason, missed eight straight attempts in the fourth quarter to allow Houston back into the game.
Kyrie Irving finished with 31 points and eight assists while Kevin Love contributed 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Absences loom large
Absentees almost loomed large for the Oklahoma City Thunder, who rested both Kevin Durant and power forward Serge Ibaka for their clash with the Detroit Pistons.
The final scoreline told the story, with the Pistons running out winners by 88-82 to move to 40-35 and into seventh spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Thunder star Russell Westbrook meanwhile scored 24 points despite being the main focus of the Detroit defense.
“The main advantage that you have with Durant out of there is you can run everybody at Westbrook when he’s going (to the rim),” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said.
“We made him take a lot of difficult shots tonight. But you know, a lot of teams have to play without Kevin Durant — 29 of them.”
Westbrook meanwhile was more irked at what he felt was an excessive celebration by former teammate Reggie Jackson afterward.
“Honestly, I thought it was some real B.S. for our team and our organization, I didn’t like it all. But it is what it is,” an unimpressed Westbrook said.
“We’ll see him down the line. We’ll take care of that when we get there.”
The Chicago Bulls meanwhile gave their playoff hopes a boost after Jimmy Butler scored a pull-up jumper with 3.7 seconds left on the clock to seal a 98-96 win over the Indiana Pacers.
The win saw the Bulls improve to 37-37, just trailing the Pacers (39-35), who currently occupy the eighth playoff berth in the Eastern Conference standings.
“We knew we had to win this one,” Bills coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It would be a mountain to climb if we didn’t get this one.
“It was a huge win. The guys stepped up big and made the right plays down the stretch. They defended well the last couple of possessions.”
The Golden State Warriors meanwhile maintained their charge towards a record-breaking season with a comfortable 102-94 win over the Washington Wizards.
Stephen Curry topscored with 26 points as the Dubs improved to 66-7, just seven victories away from surpassing Chicago’s record 72-win season during the Michael Jordan era.