Basketball: Rockets end four-game losing run after abrupt axing of coach McHale

Houston Rockets guard James Harden during their game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov 18, 2015.
Houston Rockets guard James Harden during their game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov 18, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

(AFP) - Houston guard James Harden scored 45 points, including all nine for his team in overtime as the Rockets followed the abrupt sacking of coach Kevin McHale with a 108-103 NBA victory over Portland on Wednesday ().

Harden, who scored 26 points in the fourth quarter, added 11 assists for the Rockets, who snapped a four-game losing streak hours after McHale was sent packing.

Houston players acknowledged they felt the burden of the decision to dismiss McHale.

"We are responsible," said swingman Corey Brewer. "Coach can't make us play hard. That's up to us. It's got to be a wake-up call. We've got to get better."

With interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff at the helm for the first time, the Rockets delivered a gritty performance.

Brewer drained a three-pointer with less than a second remaining in regulation to send the game to overtime with the score knotted at 99-99.

Rockets centre Dwight Howard grabbed 19 rebounds and forward Trevor Ariza added 18 points and eight rebounds as Houston handed Portland a seventh straight defeat.

Bickerstaff, promoted to coach for the rest of the season from his position as an assistant to McHale, said his goal was to "get back to who we were when we had our most success".

The Rockets reached the Western Conference final last season, and while sacking McHale after four straight defeats seemed like panic to some in the league, general manager Daryl Morey said the fierce competition in the West forced his hand.

"The team was not responding to Kevin," Morey said. "There is no time in the West."

The rugged conference is led by reigning NBA champions Golden State, who took their season opening winning streak to 12 games on Tuesday.

The San Antonio Spurs are slotted comfortably into second place, taking their record to 9-2 with a 109-98 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday.