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Solid Gold

Harden's late-game heroics lift Rockets to 130-125 OT win over Denver

  • Asik on the Boards
    Rockets center Omer Asik grabs 23 rebounds in the Rockets win Sunday versus the Nuggets.
  • Nuggets vs. Rockets
    James Harden has 32 points and Chandler Parsons scores eight points in overtime to lift the Rockets to a 130-125 victory over the Nuggets on Sunday night.
  • Harden Drops 32
    James Harden goes off for 32 points and ten assists in the Rockets overtime win against the Nuggets.
  • Chandler Parsons: 4/6 Postgame
    Chandler Parsons addresses the media following the 130-125 overtime victory against the Denver Nuggets
  • Harden's Trey to OT
    James Harden drills the deep trey to tie the game late and send it into overtime against the Nuggets.
  • Garcia Over Mozgov
    Francisco Garcia rushes inside and smashes it down over Timofey Mozgov.
  • Harden Outlets to Omer
    James Harden launches the deep outlet to Omer Asik who slams in traffic.
  • Omer Asik: 4/6 Postgame
    Omer Asik addresses the media following the 130-125 overtime victory against the Denver Nuggets
  • James Harden: 4/6 Postgame
    James Harden addresses the media following the 130-125 overtime victory against the Denver Nuggets
  • Kevin McHale: 4/6 Postgame
    Kevin McHale addresses the media following the 130-125 overtime victory against the Denver Nuggets
  • Nuggets vs. Rockets: First half
    The Rockets lead the Nuggets at the half 69-52.
  • Rockets on the Run
    The Rockets push it ahead to Terrence Jones who crashes in with the slam.

HOUSTON - This could have been the Red Wedding. Glee before gore. Euphoria turned to despair. A celebration transformed into a bloodbath.

Yes, for a good solid 44 minutes Sunday night, the Rockets’ evening looked like a script pulled straight from the most haunting pages of Game of Thrones. A 17-point lead had been lost. A familiar face had reappeared and seemed dead set on exacting revenge in the most painful way possible. And all the good vibes from Friday night’s thrilling win over OKC appeared on the verge of being bundled up and pushed back into the nether regions of the mind.

PHOTO GALLERY

With 4:35 remaining, Houston found itself staring into the abyss of a 112-98 deficit. All hope seemed lost. And then faster than you can say ‘dracarys,’ James Harden unfurled his wings, spit fire, and brought the Rockets all the way back for a stunning 130-125 overtime victory.

How did it happen? To answer that question, first one must figure out how exactly Houston arrived in such dire straits in the first place. Because before the game took a turn and delved into the world of George R. R. Martin, it had been downright Dickensian during a first half that witnessed both the best of times and the worst of times. Tonight’s contest couldn’t have started more poorly from a Houston perspective as the Rockets took turns bricking shots from all over the floor while sleepwalking through the vast majority of the opening period. Houston hit just four of its first 19 shots from the field (including an 0-for-5 mark from beyond the arc) and could only coax four of its first 10 free throw attempts into the hoop. As a result, a Denver team that came in severely shorthanded and one that turned the ball over a whopping eight times in the first quarter was still able to build itself a double-digit lead in the early going.

But then the Rockets received a spark from a rather unexpected source. With his club desperate for someone, anyone to show some aptitude in the art of sinking shots, rookie Isaiah Canaan stepped forth and filled that role in a most resounding way. Canaan drained each of his first three attempts from downtown, needing fewer than five minutes to match his career-high in that category (he ultimately topped his career-high for scoring as well, finishing the night with 15 points).

Emboldened that there was not, in fact, a lid atop the basket, the floodgates summarily burst and Houston’s early trickle of points became nothing less than a flood of biblical proportions. The Rockets racked up a season-high 47 points in the second quarter, splashing in shots from all their favorite places – the rim, free throw line and behind the 3-point arc. Omer Asik continued his titanic production, delivering 12 points, 17 rebounds and two blocks in the first half alone (he finished with 18 points and a career high-tying 23 boards). And when Jeremy Lin closed the quarter with seven straight points, including a triple that barely beat the buzzer, Houston owned a 69-52 halftime lead that placed them firmly in control of the contest.

Or so it seemed. All that magic Houston conjured in the second quarter? Apparently it switched allegiances during intermission. In particular, it made itself right at home within the jersey of former Rocket Aaron Brooks who played with the same sort of sorcery to which he had treated Houston fans during the Rockets’ memorable 2009 playoff run. While Quincy Miller set a new career-high for scoring, Evan Fournier rained in 3s and Kenneth Faried was busy doing Manimal things, it was AB who weaved one spell after another, summoning scoring plays for himself and his teammates from all corners of the court. A 36-19 third quarter erased every bit of Houston’s halftime lead. And the carnage only continued to grow when the game resumed in the final frame. By the aforementioned and fateful 4:35 mark of the fourth quarter, Denver had outscored Houston in the second half by an unfathomable margin of 60-29.

Then and only then was Houston’s more beastly nature fully unleashed. The desperation that had been so sorely needed far earlier in the contest finally emerged as the Rockets aggressively attacked, trapped and harried Brooks and the rest of Denver’s playmakers on the defensive end. The stops and steals began to pile up. Asik picked off a pass at midcourt and took it the rest of the way for a layup while getting fouled. Lin snuck up from behind Brooks in the final minute, poked the ball away, and secured a precious extra possession that resulted in two made free throws. Houston’s pressure exacted a heavy toll. The Nuggets’ poise rapidly deteriorated. And James Harden, seemingly sensing an opportunity for something extraordinary and special, relentlessly and maniacally made it happen.

He began the Rockets’ rally with a 3 from the top of the key. He bulled his way to the line in his own inimitable way. He drove to the hoop and dared Denver’s defenders to do something about it (hint: they didn’t). And with Houston in need of one final push to tie things up and send the game to overtime, he rose up with Randy Foye right in his face and coolly splashed home a triple that produced pandemonium and inevitability. The Rockets were not going to lose. Not now. Not after this. And he, Asik, Lin and Chandler Parsons made sure they didn’t during an extra period Houston controlled much of the way.

All told, Harden scored 13 points in the final 4:24 of regulation as the Rockets closed the fourth quarter with a 19-5 run in that span. The cynic would say Houston never should have put itself in that position in the first place, and they would be probably right. But there is also something to be said for a team and a player that possess the ability to steal victory from the jaws of defeat. And Harden’s late-game magic this season has proven to be positively larcenous in that regard.

“To have a guy on you team close games like that is unbelievable,” said Parsons of his All-Star teammate. “It’s a good feeling to have … He’s one of the best closers and best scorers in the NBA.”

The numbers most definitely agree with Parsons’ assessment. Only MVP frontrunner Kevin Durant owns a higher fourth quarter scoring average than does Harden, and Houston’s superstar two-guard averages even more points in clutch situations (defined as any time in the last five minutes of a game when the contest is decided by five points or fewer) than do Durant and fellow luminary LeBron James.

When his club has needed his scoring the most, Harden has consistently delivered the goods, with tonight serving as just the latest example. All looked lost. The Rockets appeared done. Old Walder Frey could practically be heard cackling in the background. But in this drama, dragons are game-changers. Their purifying fire can cure a lot of ills. And James Harden unleashed a bellyful tonight, rescuing the Rockets and serving notice yet again that no lead is safe from the blaze of his offensive firepower.

NOTES

HOUSTON ROCKETS COACH KEVIN McHALE

(On what the team showed by making a comeback) “Well, we battle. The guys went out there...we sped them up a little bit. Got a couple of turnovers, came down, got to the line and tried to attack them (Nuggets). The last four minutes and in the five minutes of overtime and then a hell of a second quarter, but other than that we were flat. At one point we were like six of seven for twenty-four or twenty-five in the paint. We were just throwing it over the basket or throwing it in their hand. They blocked a ton of shots and we just can't have that.”

(On team's play) “Chandler (Parsons) made two big 3's but really, Omer (Asik) and James (Harden) (kept us in the game). Without those two we'd get blown out of the place. We had no life. Isaiah (Canaan) made a couple of 3s for us which is nice to see. Francisco Garcia came in and did a nice job for us too. We were not ready, definitely, starting that game off.”

(On Omer Asik and James Harden's play) “As I said, if Omer and James hadn't played we would have been in a world of hurt. James had ten assists and probably had another eight or ten passes that could have been assists but we threw the ball over the basket or we shot it into their (Nuggets) hands.”

(On Isaiah Canaan's play and contribution) “He's coming along. Defensively, it's going to be his biggest hurdle but it's for all young guys you've got to figure out the league. (He's) gotta get comfortable working with the bigs. As much of a pick and roll league as this is right now and you're playing point guard, you are going to be involved in a ton of them. You've got to get the coverages and you've got to be sharp and all that. He's getting better. I like Isaiah. I think he's going to be good for us. Learning on the job at this time is a pretty tough go.”

CHANDLER PARSONS

(On the Rockets rough start but getting the win) “It felt like we were in mud all night. At this point in the season it doesn't matter, a win is a win, but we have to be more consistent throughout the game. We can't allow them to go on big runs like that. When we get leads we have to extend them. We can't let up and help teams come in, especially at the beginning of the game. We gave them hope and we let them get off to a good start so we've got to get better at that.”

(On the Rockets winning the first and third quarters but not second and fourth) “We were sluggish all night long, especially in that first quarter. We couldn't get anything going. We were missing shots. It just seemed like it was really hard for everybody.”

JEREMY LIN

(On the game) “Oh man. Up seventeen (points) and down twelve with three and a half (minutes) and finally sending it in to OT (overtime). Unbelievable game. A lot to learn from this one.”

(On the Rockets sustaining Denver's rally) “I think one thing we've had a problem with all season long is giving up leads. To have a twenty-nine point swing that we had tonight and be able to come back and win, that just shows a lot of grit. A lot of gutsy plays. You can go down the list and talk about how many people played. It's unbelievable.”

JAMES HARDEN

(On the comeback) “We didn't give up. We shouldn't have even put ourselves in that situation. We were up by 17 (points) going into half time. In the third quarter we just came out and played the opposite of how we played first half. They got confidence and started making shots. We put ourselves into a terrible position.”

(On his 3-pointer) “I knew we didn't have any timeouts and the first option that was available was a three. If I had an open two I would have taken it but the three was there and I had confidence and shot it.”

(On if he has become accustom to taken clutch shots) “Yeah. The more you have taken them the more comfortable you get in those situations. For me, I've been in those situations a lot this year and just having the confidence to go out there and shoot the shot or make the layup.”

ISAIAH CANAAN

(On the importance of the win) “It was very important just to continue after the Thunder game and to go on the road with another win streak. It gives us confidence and we needed that one (this win). “

(On his new career high) “It always feels good to go out there and help the team out. I try not to think too much about individual things. I just try to go out there and help the team out but it's great motivation for me just to know that I had another career high out there tonight and just try to build on that.”

OMER ASIK

(On his rebounding work in the paint) “I just try to do my job and try to help the team as much as I can. I just try to do more work on the court. We were down ten or twelve and James (Harden) made a big shot and it was a great win.”

(On Aaron Brooks) “He played great. He was playing well when he was with us too. I'm happy for him. He played great tonight.”

DENVER NUGGETS COACH BRIAN SHAW

(On the game) “I don’t think I’ve seen something quite like that. We came right out in the third quarter and absorbed their lead and tied it up and then went up double digits ourselves and we had a fourteen point lead and I think with four minutes left in the game we expected to win the game. But then, we started to play not to lose. We got on our heels and we let their pressure effect us and we started throwing the ball all over the place turning it over and they took advantage of that. I commend our guys for fighting and coming back from a seventeen point deficit in the first place. There will be a lot of teaching points and things we can learn from when we look at the film. It’s hard to let one like that get away.”

(On the last play in regulation) “I think they just threw it in to (James) Harden and he stepped back and shot a quick three. We didn’t really talk about whether we should foul in that situation or not. I just wanted us to play tough defense on them and try and make them make a shot over a contested hand. He created enough space on the step back and shot the ball four or five feet behind the three point line. He got a quick look at it and even then there was seven seconds left in the game. We had the ball with an opportunity to take the last shot to win the game. Even in that situation, we weren’t aggressively trying to score. We kind of threw the ball in and everybody kind of got out of the way and we didn’t get a quality look on that last shot.”

(On Aaron Brooks’ play) “Aaron played great. He thought it was going to be a story where he came back to really will our team to win against his ex team. He had it going good and even gave a couple of looks to their bench when it was going good, but then there was a stretch where the game started getting tight and he was one of the ones turning the ball over. Overall, twenty four points and fifteen assists or whatever it was and having to play a lot of minutes and I know he was tired. He’s so far is the guy who’s played the best against his whole team out of all the guys we have. I’m happy for him as he was able to perform the way he was, just disappointed we weren’t able to salt away the victory and allow him to get a win against his ex team.”

AARON BROOKS

(On what it was like to come back and have this kind of performance) “It was kind of negated to me because we let it slip away at the end. James (Harden) was pretty amazing at the end as he did his thing. It was tough to let it get away. Coming back here, you definitely want to win. I’m just a competitor. It doesn’t really have anything to do with coming back, but I just want to play and win.”

(On what Coach McHale said about him coming back to play against his old team) “It was just a tough loss and I just keeping thinking about the turnovers at the end and the loss. I left here on good terms and coach has always been good and honest to me and I was blessed to have this opportunity and have a decent game, but I just wish we could’ve come out with the win.”

(On the Houston fans) “It was much appreciated. I love the Houston fans and always have and always will. I’ve had a lot of years here, so I’m just happy they accept me, but I still wish we could’ve gotten the win.”

RANDY FOYE

(On the game) “We basically gave it to them. We tried to come out and be the spoiler and they were trying to come out and get a better seed for the playoffs. They did a good job, but we had some turnovers at the end and a lot of things went their way at the end. At the end of the day, we gave the game away.”

(On if they considered fouling James Harden before his three at the end of regulation) “No, not really. Even before that, I should’ve made the free throw that I missed. He just made a tough shot. He stepped back and I was right there and he made a good shot.”

(On Aaron Brooks) “Aaron really played well. He almost played the whole game. Aaron played great. He was aggressive and he was dead tired at the end and that’s why they got some of those turnovers because he wasn’t moving as fast as he was at the beginning. He did a great job coming back (to Houston).”

NOTES

Houston registered another sold out crowd of 18,325 tonight, which is the second-largest attendance of the season. The Rockets extended the new single-season record for Toyota Center to 36 sellouts.

The Rockets rallied back to force overtime where they won 130-125 over the Nuggets tonight. Each team overcame at least 14-point deficits (Denver 17, Houston 14). It was just the second game this season the Rockets and their opponent both came back from at least 14 points down. The other was a 101-89 win by Houston at Orlando (3/5/14), with the Rockets and Magic each erasing 14-point deficits.

Houston went 13-of-36 (.361) from beyond the arc tonight. The Rockets have now reached double-digits in 3-pointers made in each of their last five home games.

The Rockets racked up 69 first-half points tonight, giving Houston 60 or more points in the first half 27 times on the season (Rockets record: 24-3).

Houston netted 47 points in the second quarter tonight, setting the franchise record for most points in a second quarter. The previous best was 45 at New York (3/21/10). It was also the best scoring quarter for the Rockets this season.

The Rockets (50) and Nuggets (54) combined for 104 boards tonight. It marked the 19th 50-rebound outing for each team this season, which stands tied for fourth-most such game in the NBA in 2013-14.

Houston had 10 blocked shots tonight, marking their eighth double-figure block game of the season. The Rockets moved to 14-1 this season when notching eight or more blocks a game.

The Rockets had seven players in double-figure scoring for the sixth time this season.

Denver set Houston’s opponent season highs for field goals made (51) and second-chance points (34), as well as netting 60 points in the paint and 22 fast-break points. Houston also had 36 off the break tonight.

James Harden, who hit the game-tying 3-pointer with 7.1 seconds left to force OT, finished with 32 points (9-23 FG, 11-12 FT), 10 assists and four steals tonight. Harden, who now owns 13 20-point, 10-assist games in his career (Rockets record: 13-0), has nine straight 25-plus point outings (3/20/14-4/6/14).

Omer Asik posted a season-high 18 points (6-11 FG, 6-11 FT), a career-high-tying 23 rebounds, three steals and three blocks tonight. Asik actually had 17 boards in the first half alone, matching the most rebounds by a Rockets players in a half this season (17 by Dwight Howard).

Isaiah Canaan netted a career-high 15 points (5-8 FG) off a career-best four made treys (4-7 3FG) tonight.

Evan Fournier, who posted a career-high 27 points (8-11 FG) vs. Sacramento (2/23/14), came off the bench with a team-high 26 points (9-16 FG, 6-10 3FG) tonight.

Aaron Brooks recorded 24 points (11-24 FG), 15 assists, eight boards and three steals in his return to Houston. It marked his second double-double since joining the Nuggets. He also posted 27 points (10-19 FG) and a career-high 17 assists vs. Detroit (3/19/14).

Quincy Miller collected career highs of 19 points (8-14 FG, 3-5 3FG), four blocks and three assists tonight.