HOUSTON • A 36-point display from James Harden and a towering defensive performance from Trevor Ariza helped the Houston Rockets edge past the Brooklyn Nets 122-118 on Monday to hand the Rockets a seventh straight National Basketball Association win.
Harden contributed eight rebounds and 11 assists while Eric Gordon added 24 points off the bench as Houston improved to 18-7 at the Toyota Centre.
But while Harden finished as top scorer, it was the eye-catching performance of Ariza that helped Houston get over the line.
He produced a superb block off a lay-up attempt from Nets guard Joe Harris before stealing an inbound pass just before the final buzzer to snuff out any chance of Brooklyn forcing overtime.
Rockets guard Patrick Beverley added a deflected pass that resulted in a turnover with Brooklyn (6-17) trailing by two points with eight seconds left.
The Rockets (18-7) laboured in extending their winning streak, missing 15 free throws to keep the Nets close. Nets centre Brook Lopez scored 26 points for the visitors, with the starting backcourt of Sean Kilpatrick and Isaiah Whitehead contributing 30 points and seven assists between them.
Guard Jeremy Lin added 10 points and seven assists off the bench.
With the Nets shooting just 38.5 per cent from the field in the first half, the Rockets ably maintained a double-digit advantage despite missing 15 of 22 shots from deep.
But, once the Nets caught fire in the third quarter, the Rockets proved unable to match them shot for shot, and Brooklyn's sudden offensive burst set the stage for a white-knuckle finish.
Harden was relieved the Rockets had survived a furious late assault led by Lopez.
"This is the NBA," said Harden, who hit 12 of 27 field-goal attempts. "You've got guys that can get confidence and make shots, and it's tough to put (the fire) out.
"Lopez started to get it going early, and they threw the ball to him and he was just scoring. But we got stops when we needed to."
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson drew consolation from the return of Lin making his first appearance since Nov 2 after missing 17 games with a strained left hamstring.
"It helps having Jeremy back," Atkinson said. "It just gives us organisation. He's a veteran and he had seven assists in 20 minutes, and I think that was big.
"He knows where to give Brook the ball and when to give Brook the ball, and that's from his experience."
Brooklyn lost 13 of 17 games they played in the period when Lin, 28, was sidelined.
"I think I can appreciate it a little bit more having been out for so long," Lin told ESPN. "The game, the experience. I'm just going in there and going to have a lot of fun just competing again and being with my team on the floor."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS