Houston Rockets guard James Harden was bedeviled nearly the entire game by Pelicans guard Eric Gordon during Wednesday’s game at the New Orleans Arena.
However, Harden exacted revenge down the stretch, leading the Rockets to a come-from-behind 103-100 victory in a Southwest Division game.
He scored 12 of his team-high 26 points in the fourth quarter, going 3-of-3 on field goals and 6-of-6 on free throws.
“James made a big shot down the stretch, he got fouled,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “He’s our closer. He did what closers do; he closed, and we needed it.”
The loss was the seventh in a row for New Orleans (15-23), who play another tough team, the Golden State Warriors on Saturday.
It also overshadowed a career-high 35 points by Gordon. However, with the Rockets (26-14) trapping him with two players, he was held to two points on one shot in 8 minutes, 34 seconds of the fourth quarter.
“We have to learn to play off of him,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “When Eric is getting trapped like that, it should be easier for everybody, and it just wasn’t. We just didn’t know down shots.”
It was the third consecutive oh-so-close loss for the Pelicans, who shot 6-of-16 in the fourth quarter and were outrebounded 12-4. This one came with Rockets star center Dwight Howard, laden in foul trouble all game, being held to 12 points and 11 rebounds.
New Orleans led 99-92 with 3:06 left after a three-point play by point guard Brian Roberts. However, Harden scored eight of Houston’s next 11 points. After two free throws by Anthony Davis tied the score at 100, Harden hit a jumper after he bumped Austin Rivers back. That gave the Rockets a 102-100 lead with 28 seconds left.
Jason Smith then missed a 20-footer, and Houston’s Chandler Parsons made the second of two free throws with 11.2 seconds left.
After a timeout, the Pelicans ran a play for second-year reserve forward Darius Miller, who has shown he can make 3-pointers, but he missed.
“I was open, and I had a good look,” said Miller, who was 1-of-5 before the shot. “It felt good; it just didn’t go down.”
Williams said: “My thinking was ‘they’re all over Eric.’ Darius has the capability of knocking down that a shot.”
Anthony Davis had his fourth consecutive game with at least 20 points, getting 24 points and 12 rebounds. With the Rockets double-teaming Gordon when he got the ball to stop him from driving, Davis stepped up in the fourth quarter. He scored 10 points, including a 17-footer, then two free throws that kept New Orleans ahead by eight with 6:26 showing.
At the 4:40 mark, he rebounded a miss by Roberts, gathered himself and rammed down a two-handed dunk for a 94-86 lead.
However, 13 seconds later, backup Greg Stiemsma, who had been effective with his size as the Pelicans turned back the Rockets in the third quarter, collided with Harden and got his sixth foul, taking him out of the game. Things took a turn for he worst after that.
“We tried to get the ball out of Gordon’s hands,” McHale said. “Then we got some rebounds, got fouled, and tried to get to the line.”
The Pelicans came away with an 81-74 lead at the end of the third after losing control. Three minutes into the quarter, Harden made a 3-pointer, drawing Houston to 64-54.
Within a 25-second span after Harden’s shot, Davis picked up his third foul trying to defend Howard and his fourth trying to stop a drive by Terrence Jones, who picked up Howard’s slack with 25 points.
With Davis out, Houston exploited a smaller New Orleans lineup and gained and tied the score 68-68 at 5:03.
However, Gordon scored eight points in the last 3:20, including two 3-pointers and a drive that drew the fourth foul on Howard, taking him out of the game.
The Pelicans got off to a very good start, leading 30-19 at the end of the first quarter, in which Gordon had 14 points, mostly on drives to the basket, and Davis 10.
When the second quarter began, the Rockets started trapping Gordon with a big man out front, and that slowed him a bit. Still, he scored eight points, and New Orleans went into halftime with a 56-45 lead.