Har­den saves his best for last

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in Hous­ton

Hous­ton’s coach­ing staff em­pha­sized to the play­ers that Bos­ton led the league in fourth-quar­ter scor­ing.

So when the Rock­ets found them­selves down by six points en­ter­ing the fi­nal frame, they knew they’d have to step things up to es­cape with a win.

Har­den made sure of it by scor­ing 13 of his 37 points in the fourth be­fore Al Hor­ford missed a shot just be­fore the buzzer to al­low the Rock­ets to hold on for a 107-106 vic­tory on Mon­day night.

“The fourth quar­ter we just picked up ... we just wanted to lock in and get stops and of­fen­sively be ag­gres­sive,” Har­den said.

The game was tied be­fore Har­den scored five straight points to make it 107-102 with less than a minute re­main­ing.

Avery Bradley made a jump shot and Har­den re­ceived a fla­grant foul for el­bow­ing Mar­cus Smart in the face. Smart made both free throws be­fore Isa­iah Thomas missed a layup.

But Hous­ton knocked the ball out of bounds with 5.2 sec­onds left, giv­ing Bos­ton one last chance. Hor­ford drove into the lane, but his shot rolled off the rim and Har­den grabbed it to se­cure the vic­tory.

“I felt good when I shot it, but it just didn’t go down,” Hor­ford said.

Hor­ford had 21 points and Thomas added 20 for the Celtics, who had won two straight.

It was the ninth 30-point game this sea­son for Har­den, who also had eight as­sists and seven re­bounds.

An 8-2 run by Hous­ton, pow­ered by a pair of 3-poin­t­ers by Eric Gor­don, cut Bos­ton’s lead to one with about eight min­utes left. Smart made a 3-pointer for the first of seven straight points for the Celtics that made it 96-88.

Smart also had a big de­fen­sive play in that stretch when he blocked a one-handed dunk at­tempt by Mon­trezl Har­rell.

Hous­ton scored eight straight points, topped off with a dunk from Har­rell, to take a 102-100 lead with about three min­utes left.

Har­den raved about Har­rell’s work.

“You see how he’s fly­ing around every­where,” Har­den said. “He does a lot of dif­fer­ent things, some things that don’t show up on the stat sheet that helped con­trib­ute to this win.”

The Celtics trailed by 12 early in the third quar­ter be­fore us­ing a 15-2 spurt to take a 68-67 lead with about seven min­utes left in the quar­ter.

Bos­ton made three 3-poin­t­ers in that span while Hous­ton missed five shots, in­clud­ing four 3s, and had two turnovers to help the Celtics close the gap.

“We guarded at a dif­fer­ent level and our first unit played pretty well in the third,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “In one stretch in the fourth we turned the ball over and that was hurt­ful.

“Har­den is re­ally good. I don’t know what else to say. We could go through and dis­sect every play, but over­all he is just a re­ally good player.”

The Rock­ets were up by three points with two min­utes left in the first half be­fore Smart fouled Har­den on a 3-point at­tempt and he made all three free throws.

Hous­ton ex­tended the lead to seven when Smart again fouled Har­den on a 3-point try and his three free throws made it 58-48 at half­time.

Fran­chise record

Har­den tied a fran­chise record for most free throws with­out a miss by mak­ing all 18 of his at­tempts against the Celtics. Kevin Martin also went 18 for 18 on March 20, 2011 against Utah.

Har­den lamented com­mit­ting the of­fen­sive foul on Smart late in­stead of draw­ing the foul and get­ting a chance to go to the line for the record.

“Of course I wanted two free throws at the end of the game in­stead of a fla­grant, but we won,” he said.

“That’s the only thing that mat­ters.”

JOHN BAZEMORE / AP

Ok­la­homa City Thun­der guard Russell West­brook shoots over At­lanta Hawks’ Kyle Korver in the sec­ond half of their NBA clash in At­lanta on Mon­day night. OKC won 102-99.

DAVID J. PHILLIP / AP

James Har­den pumps up the crowd af­ter scor­ing against the Bos­ton Celtics on Mon­day in Hous­ton. The Rock­ets won 107106.

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