Rockets 129, Raptors 122 - Harden dazzles in Rockets eighth straight win

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Led by James Harden’s stellar afternoon, the Houston Rockets won their eighth straight game on Sunday by beating the Toronto Raptors in Canada. Harden put up video game numbers (again) with 40 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds. Most importantly, Harden closed this game out like a superstar should – and he did so on both ends of the floor.

The Rockets got off to yet another slow start on Sunday, but this slow start wasn’t about sluggish play – it was purely about poor shooting from deep (okay, and Harden had himself a plethora of turnovers). Houston traded baskets with Toronto to start the game, but the Raptors went on a 7-0 run to build a 22-14 lead. Houston responded with a 9-0 run that included a couple of ridiculous and-one layup conversions from James Harden and Eric Gordon.

Toronto had the extremely hot hand in the first, making five of their seven three-point attempts and shooting 61% from the field overall. The Raptors followed Houston’s big run with an even bigger 13-0 run to close out the opening period 37-27.

Houston faced the same shooting woes in the second quarter and Toronto continued to heat things up, albeit not to the same extent as in the first. DeMar DeRozan – a hometown friend of Harden – turned on the jets, scoring 17 points in the first half on 75% shooting. The friendly rivalry took center stage in the first, half as Harden scored 18 points on 54.5% shooting. At one point in the second the Raptors had a 13-point lead, but the Rockets managed to whittle it down to two by halftime – thanks in large part to a buzzer-beating three from Trevor Ariza.

Despite the Rockets taking a 66-65 lead early in the third, the Raptors managed to retake the lead and build it to 13 points on the strength of their outside shooting. Toronto hit four threes in the first six minutes of the period, and DeMarre Carroll scored 14 of his 26 points in the period (he had six made threes).

Houston finally found its stroke from beyond the arc, quadrupling their three-point output in the first half. Six made threes, including a buzzer beater from James Harden, and plenty of and-one opportunities allowed the Rockets to stay in this game and go into the fourth quarter down by only four points (99-95).

The Rockets opened the final period with an Eric Gordon driving layup, a Montrezl Harrell block, and a Trevor Ariza corner three (his fourth of the game) that allowed the Rockets to take a 100-99 lead. The Rockets added another ten unanswered points, including a couple of buckets from Harrell (who was a perfect 11/11 from the field to that point). Toronto went scoreless for the first four minutes of the fourth quarter and Houston managed to build a double-digit lead (110-99).

James Harden put this game away and, for the fourth straight game, the Rockets overcame a poor start and a poor shooting night from beyond the arc to get a win. Despite being down by 13 points at multiple stages in this game and an incredible night from DeMar DeRozan (36 points on 62% shooting), Houston never wavered and showed why they’ve been able to win as many games as they have. They’re confident in their game (even when the shots aren’t falling) and get contributions from everyone who sees the court.

The Rockets look to extend their winning streak to nine when they take on the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday.

Game Ball 

This is a segment of the game recaps that will give the proverbial game ball to a player that proved to be most valuable to the Rockets on a given night. This award won’t necessarily go to the player that puts up the best numbers, but to the player that made the greatest impact on the team – tangible or intangible.

Sunday’s game ball goes to James Harden.

Despite incredible and game-changing contributions from Montrezl Harrell (28 points on 12/13 shooting) and Trevor Ariza (17 points, including five threes), James Harden easily wins this game ball with another truly spectacular performance (40 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds). While Harrell and Ariza were instrumental in the Rockets 24-point turnaround that would ultimately give Houston a double-digit lead, Harden was pivotal in closing the game. His numbers are dazzling, but the fact that he continued to pad his stat sheet late in the game while the Raptors threatened to make a comeback is what separates him as a superstar.

Harden scored the ball at will and made two incredibly clutch defensive plays; he took a charge and, a few possessions later, blocked DeMar DeRozan’s shot attempt in the paint and hauled in the rebound to post his ninth triple-double of the season.

James Harden continues to make the ridiculous look routine, and could very well be on his way to being named the Most Valuable Player in the NBA.

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