James Harden led the way for the visiting Houston Rockets, scoring 35 points to lift the visitors to a 107-95 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night at the Scotia Bank Arena.
Harden added three assists, four rebounds and four steals, punctuating the victory with a game-sealing floater after employing a stutter-step on his defender late in the fourth quarter.
The Arizona State alumnus has now scored at least 28 points in his last 39 games.
Gerald Green added to the scoring with 18 points, mostly coming from beyond the arc. Clint Capela pitched in a solid performance, scoring nine points and adding 15 rebounds.
Eric Gordon contributed 13 points and two boards, while Chris Paul was quiet, scoring only five points, but adding 10 assists for the Rockets (39-25).
Houston has now swept the season series, winning both games versus the Raptors (46-19).
Kawhi Leonard led the Raptors in the scoring department, with a team-high 26 points and added six rebounds. Pascal Siakam posted his 15th double-double of the season with 17 points and 10 rebounds, while teammate Serge Ibaka also double-doubled, with 10 points and 15 boards in the loss.
The Rockets are now on a six game win-streak, while the Raptors lost their last two decisions.
Toronto started off the game abysmally, trailing 55-37 at halftime, but were able to claw their way back, mainly due to a 25-4 scoring run to start the third quarter, erasing the Rockets 18-point lead. To start the fourth, the Raptors were leading by a point.
After coming out slow to start the first half, Lowry was assessed a technical at the beginning of the third quarter. That seemingly gave the Raptors a spark, helping lead Toronro back into the game through gritty play. This point came near the beginning of a 25-4 scoring run for the Raptors.
During the run, Lowry unsuccessfully chased down a loose ball at the sideline by sprawling out on the floor. Despite not being able to obtain possession, the 19,800 fans in attendance at Scotia Bank Arena erupted in cheers.
Although Toronto started the third quarter on an impressive 23-4 scoring run, it wasn’t enough to earn the Raptors a victory.
Prior to the game, Raptors Head Coach, Nick Nurse made it abundantly clear that MVP candidate Harden was the focal point of the Raptors’ defensive game-plan.
“He messes things up because he can score 50,” said Nurse, when asked whether Harden was tough to guard due to being left-handed. “And then on top of that he throws like 105 mile per hour fastballs out to the shooters, so it’s hard to get out to them when you do try to collapse a little bit.”
Harden has been offensively dominant this season and is averaging a league-high 36.7 points per game.
Nurse also spoke on the quality of the Rockets, putting them within the upper echelon of teams in the NBA when they have their starters healthy, notably Paul and Capela.
“This is a championship level team, no doubt about it. Injuries. They’ve had more than their share, with key people. I think it’s a great test for us,” said Nurse. “This is a team you could see in the finals, without question.”
The Rockets were also without power-forward Kenneth Faried for the third game in a row, who has been nursing a sore hip-flexor. Faried has been a key player both on the glass and as a secondary scorer for Houston following his trade from the Brooklyn Nets.
The Raptors became defensively stagnant in the fourth quarter, allowing the Rockets to score 38 points in the final frame.
Point guard Kyle Lowry attributed part of the loss to the Rockets’ superior play, but also the lack of hard work from Toronto.
“They came in and played well and we didn’t play well enough. We have to play harder as a group and continue to get better. Nothing is going to be given to you on any given night (and) you could lose,” said Lowry, clearly dejected after the tough loss.
NOTES: Toronto is currently in second place in the Eastern Conference, behind the Milwaukee Bucks … Houston moves into third place in the Western Conference with the crucial win … Raptors will head to Smoothie King arena to take on the struggling New Orleans Pelicans this Friday, kicking-off a three-game road trip, while the Rockets will be taking on the Philadelphia 76ers at home.