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Rockets ride Harden to win over Raptors

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Updated 10 months ago on
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HOUSTON — Given the fragility of playoff positioning in the Western Conference, Houston Rockets guard James Harden made clear the significance of a five-game homestand that opened on Saturday night at Toyota Center.

The Rockets took the first step toward making the most of their fortuitous stretch of schedule, riding Harden through a decisive third-quarter rally that resulted in a 98-76 victory over the Toronto Raptors.

Harden scored 16 of his 20 points in the third quarter, parlaying 5 of 6 shooting into a timely recovery after he missed all six of his shot attempts in the first half. Harden scored seven points during a 12-1 Houston run that closed the period, helping the Rockets (37-18) turn a 56-52 lead into a comfortable 15-point cushion entering the fourth.

“With the limited amount of games left (27), every game is going to count,” Harden said. “For us, we’ve got to make sure that we protect home court first.”

The Raptors (37-18) dropped their eighth consecutive game in Houston, in large part due to their 25 turnovers. Their marksmanship wasn’t much better, with the starting backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan scoring a combined 21 points on 6-for-27 shooting.

Lowry and DeRozan were responsible for 12 turnovers. Houston’s perimeter defense, led by guard Patrick Beverley and forward Trevor Ariza, blanketed Lowry and DeRozan and quieted the Raptors’ offense.

“They are a great gambling team,” DeRozan said. “They were in the passing lanes, reaching and getting hands on the balls when we’re trying to drive. They were staying home on a lot of our drivers. They got hands on most of the balls. They’ve very active.”

Raptors forward James Johnson had a career-high 27 points and shackled Harden early, utilizing his size advantage and athleticism to thwart Harden on penetration and from the perimeter. Houston starters mustered just 10 points in the first half yet the Rockets led 40-36 at the break thanks to reserves Corey Brewer, Josh Smith and Terrence Jones.

Brewer was the linchpin of a 12-1 run in the second quarter that turned a three-point deficit into a 35-27 lead. Brewer capped that spurt with a thunderous dunk that sent the partisan crowd into a tizzy.

Toronto whittled that margin to 47-44 by the 7:48 mark of the third quarter when Johnson converted a reverse layup, but Harden followed with his first 3-pointer off a deft pass from forward Donatas Motiejunas (12 points, 11 rebounds). Harden added his second 3-pointer 70 seconds later to push the lead to 55-46, and his free throws with 3:29 left keyed the critical run.

Houston hit 10 of 17 shots in the third period.

“Harden got going in the third quarter with a couple of 3s and they got out in transition,” Lowry said. “We had a heck of a lull offensively.”

Brewer posted his second career double-double (a season-high 26 points, 10 rebounds) while Jones (11 points, nine rebounds plus three blocks) just missed a double-double. Houston tallied 45 bench points.

“It was huge,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said of the bench production. “I thought Brew played great. He had a Corey Brewer game with high energy, attacking the basket and just played really well.

“I thought the group with Trevor, (Brewer), Jason Terry and Terrence Jones had a lot of energy. I think Josh played with that group, too.”

NOTES: Raptors G Lou Williams missed his first game of the season with a left ankle sprain suffered on Friday night against the Atlanta Hawks. Williams is third on the Raptors in scoring at 15.4 points per game despite having come off the bench in all 54 contests this season. Rookie C Lucas Nogueira replaced Williams on the active roster. … Rockets trade deadline acquisitions, G Pablo Prigioni and G/F K.J. McDaniels, passed their physicals on Friday and were in uniform. When asked pregame if he planned to squeeze one or both into his rotation despite neither having practiced with the team, Rockets coach Kevin McHale quipped, “Tonight I’d be shocked. … We haven’t practiced yet. I met them five minutes ago. Seemed like nice guys.”

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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