HOUSTON — Considering how glum Houston coach Kevin McHale and guard James Harden appeared following the Rockets’ 130-125 overtime win Sunday night at Toyota Center, one can imagine how disconsolate both would have been had their team actually lost to the Denver Nuggets.
Harden nailed a game-tying 3-pointer with 7.1 seconds left in regulation to compete a 19-5 surge over the final four-plus minutes, then assisted forward Chandler Parsons on two 3-pointers in overtime to cap the stunning comeback.
Houston, which led by 17 at halftime, trailed 112-98 before Harden sank a 3-pointer with 4:24 left in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t give up. We shouldn’t have even put ourselves in that situation,” Harden said. “In the third quarter, we just came out and played the opposite of how we played in the first half. They got confidence and started making shots. We put ourselves in a terrible position.”
Harden finished with 32 points and 10 assists. He scored 13 of the Rockets’ final 19 points in regulation and teamed with center Omer Asik to carry the Rockets to victory after their earlier listlessness seemed fatal.
Asik totaled a season-high 18 points, a career-high-tying 23 rebounds, three blocks and three steals, while guard Jeremy Lin had 19 points and three steals for Houston (51-25). Rockets rookie guard Isaiah Canaan added a career-high 15 points, 10 in the first half when the Rockets built their bloated cushion.
“If Omer and James hadn’t played, we would have been in a world of hurt,” McHale said.
Nuggets guard Aaron Brooks torched his former organization with 24 points, 15 assists and eight rebounds in his return to Houston following his Feb. 20 trade. Forwards Quincy Miller (a career-high 19 points) and Kenneth Faried (16 points, 13 rebounds) helped Brooks and guard Evan Fournier (26 points off the bench) spark the second-half Denver rally.
“It was kind of negated to me because we let it slip away at the end,” Brooks said of his sterling individual effort. “James 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.”
Perhaps the only thing more improbable than the Rockets recovering from an unsightly first-quarter shooting display to score a season-high 47 points in the second quarter was the ease with which the Nuggets erased the Rockets’ 69-52 halftime advantage in the third quarter.
After shooting 8-for-25 from the floor and 4-for-10 from the line in the first quarter, the Rockets seemingly couldn’t miss in the second. A quick 14-4 burst out of the quarter break netted Houston a 36-31 lead, but the Nuggets held firm until their avalanche of turnovers fed a Rockets rally.
Already trailing 58-48, Denver managed just one field goal over the final two minutes of the half, and the Rockets closed the quarter on a 9-0 blitz — the final seven coming from Lin.
Denver exceeded the Rockets’ 15-for-23 shooting in the second quarter by hitting 16 of 24 shots in the third, including all four from 3-point range.
Miller and Faried combined for 19 points in the third quarter, with their energy fueling the Nuggets’ push. Houston cooled off, and a 21-4 run netted the Nuggets the lead.
“I don’t think I’ve seen something quite like that,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said. “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 14-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.”
NOTES: Nuggets G Aaron Brooks squared off against his former team. “We joked at our breakfast meeting that we prayed for a good outing by one of our guys against one of their ex-teams,” Denver coach Brian Shaw said. “Randy (Foye) hasn’t played well against Utah, J.J. (Hickson) against Portland, Nate (Robinson) against Chicago — they all struggled against their ex-teams.” … The Rockets entered Sunday ranked 11th in the NBA in defensive efficiency (102.6 points per 100 possessions) despite a reputation that suggests otherwise. Their improvement on that end of the court has been steady. “I’ve been pretty happy with it,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said of the transition defense in particular. “Every once in a while we’ll have a breakdown, but not like it was earlier. We’re much better at loading the paint and getting back.”
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