(AFP) – James Harden showed once again that he is at the top of his game, rattling in the winning basket with two seconds left in overtime to lift the Houston Rockets to a 135-134 win over Golden State on Thursday (Jan 3).
The reigning NBA MVP drained the three pointer despite being double-teamed as the Rockets rallied from a 20-point second half deficit to beat the two-time defending champion Warriors.
“I had confidence it would go in. Even the ones I miss, they feel good,” said Harden, who recorded his fifth straight 40-point performance.
Harden finished with 44 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds in a titanic struggle between the Western Conference powers who met in a seven-game NBA playoff semi-final last season that was won by Golden State.
Harden also had a triple-double on Monday against Memphis of 43 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists. He has scored at least 30 points in 11 straight contests.
“He made the impossible shot at the end,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “Just an incredible performance.
“He is the master of isolation and the step-back three and drawing fouls.”
Golden State’s Kevin Durant launched a long three-pointer as the buzzer sounded but missed the rim.
Stephen Curry finished with 35 points for the Warriors, who have been struggling of late to find their form.
Curry put the Warriors ahead with 23 seconds remaining in overtime but all it did was set the stage for Harden’s heroics. Harden shimmied sideways and let fly with an army of Warriors in his face to score the game-winner.
“I know my team needed me to make a shot or make a play. I am happy to come up with a big-time shot,” Harden said.
He also hit two earlier three-pointers in the extra session in a game featuring dynamic plays throughout by some of the league’s marquee players.
Klay Thompson made a go-ahead layup with 40 seconds left in overtime, then Harden tied it at 132-132 on a pair of free throws with 33 seconds left.
“He’s been playing at a high level the last 11 games, so it is not surprising considering the roll he is on,” said Curry.
Elsewhere, DeMar DeRozan delivered his first career triple double as the San Antonio Spurs routed his former team the Toronto Raptors 125-107 to spoil the return of Kawhi Leonard to the Alamo City.
DeRozan finished with 21 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists as he dominated the battle against Leonard, who was making his first trip back since being traded to Toronto in the off-season.
“I just wanted to go out and have fun,” said DeRozan. “I didn’t want to put too much pressure on it. It was a great game.”
LaMarcus Aldridge scored 23 points for San Antonio, who led by as many as 28 points and snapped the Raptors’ three-game win streak.
But DeRozan stole the thunder, becoming the first Spurs player since Tim Duncan in 2003 to record a triple double at home.
Leonard scored 21 points on eight-of-13 shooting, but was showered with boos and jeers throughout the contest.
At one stage Leonard had to take a step back from the foul line as chants of “Traitor! Traitor!” and “Quitter! Quitter!” rained down from the sold out crowd of 18,500 at the AT&T Centre.
Leonard played seven seasons with the Spurs before forcing his way out of San Antonio in a trade that brought DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl from Toronto.
The boos from the San Antonio fans continued during a video tribute that the Spurs had put together to honour Leonard.
At the end of the game, Leonard hugged former coach Gregg Popovich, then walked over to the Spurs’ bench to say hello to assistant coach Ettore Messina.
“I felt badly about it. Kawhi is a high-character guy. We all make decisions in our lives, what we are going to do with our futures, and he has that same right as any of us. So I felt badly, honestly,” Popovich said of the booing.
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