Toronto Raptors fall to Houston Rockets

James Harden extended his streak of consecutive 30-point games to 22. But had plenty of help as the Houston Rockets claimed a 121-119, wire-to-wire victory over the visiting Toronto Raptors.

Harden continued his recent struggles from behind the three-point line, missing 11 of 13 attempts. However, he relied on a variety of floaters and a 15-for-15 performance from the free throw line to produce a game-high 35 points.

The Rockets claimed back-to-back victories for the first time this month. While the Raptors dropped back-to-back games for the first time since mid-December.

Eric Gordon gave Houston a 119-108 lead with two free throws at the 1:19 mark. Then Toronto closed with a dramatic 11-2 run.

After Kawhi Leonard (32 points, seven rebounds, five assists) misfired on a three-pointer at the buzzer the Rockets held on to win.

Kenneth Faried, making his home debut for the Rockets, posted an energetic double-double (21 points, 14 rebounds). Gordon added 24 points, PJ Tucker 18 and Austin Rivers 13 for Houston.

“The lift was great,” Harden said. “Kenneth brought the energy that we’ve been waiting on.”

For all the obvious reasons, the talk before was about how to stop their guy; the guy who can’t be stopped.

In the end, the Toronto Raptors did a passable job slowing down James Harden. The Houston Rockets’ high-revving scoring machine. But they couldn’t get out of their own way often enough as Harden eventually had his way with them.

“He’s playing at a high level. He’s always a guy that can go off for 60 points,” Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard said in the buildup to his club’s first meeting of the season against Harden. He came into the game averaging 43.1 points in his last 21 starts. Furthermore scoring at least 30 in each of them. The longest such streak by anyone not named Wilt Chamberlain. The streak is now 22.

“[He’s] aggressive on every possession,” Leonard continued. “Also [he’s] willing to pass [and has] guys out there that can shoot the ball, space the floor for him. But it’s just his overall mindset. He is trying to will his team to win. Taking shots, making shots.”

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said: “We just didn’t get to where we wanted to get to soon enough.”

Toronto ground on a night when nothing came easy and they were continually coming back from double-digit deficits. They actually — and improbably — had a chance to win on the last possession as they knocked down four threes in a 54-second flurry. That left them with the ball down two with 18 seconds to play after trailing by 11 with 1:21 to play and by 19 early in the fourth quarter. The Rockets helped them with a late turnover by Eric Gordon and an ill-advised shot that gave the Raptors the ball back with 20 seconds to play.

But it got a little ugly at that point. Norman Powell – guarded by Harden – was late to set a screen for Leonard designed to get the Raptors star in isolation against the Rockets star. But Harden pushed Leonard hard to his right and forced him into a fading three-pointer at the buzzer that was well short.

“It was supposed to be a middle [pick-and-roll] coming down. But the way they came down on the defensive end. They came to the left a little bit more,” said Leonard. “There was already three [defenders] on the left side so I came over that way so I could get a push going right.”

Up next the Rockets host Orlando on Sunday night, while the Raptors visit Dallas.

Peace,

Burke

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