Rockets snatch vital win

Houston shooting guard James Harden going to the basket against Golden State in Game 3. The Rockets' one-point win ensures they get a return trip to Oakland.
Houston shooting guard James Harden going to the basket against Golden State in Game 3. The Rockets' one-point win ensures they get a return trip to Oakland.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Warriors miss Curry again but despite late fight-back, Harden's 35pts are defining factor

HOUSTON • The frantic, final moments nearly undermined all the Houston Rockets built in scratching out a double-digit lead. But James Harden took advantage of the disarray by doing what he does best.

He nailed a step-back jumper with 2.7 seconds left, and the Houston Rockets claimed a 97-96 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday in Game 3 of a National Basketball Association Western Conference first-round play-off series at Toyota Centre.

The champions, playing a second consecutive game without All-Star guard Stephen Curry (right ankle sprain), still lead the best-of-seven series 2-1. Game 4 is tomorrow (Monday morning, Singapore time) at Toyota Centre, where the Warriors are hopeful that Curry will start.

The Rockets blew a 17-point lead and trailed with 10.6 seconds left after Trevor Ariza threw away an inbound pass that facilitated a fast-break lay-up by Warriors reserve guard Ian Clark.

With Houston out of time-outs, Harden followed with a quick dribble, darted into the lane and spun free before nailing a 10-foot jumper.

BAD DAY AT THE OFFICE

I was awful the whole game. I care about that turnover, but I cost us the game way before then.

'' DRAYMOND GREEN, Warriors power forward, who blames himself not for the final turnover but for playing
poorly throughout, with just nine points in total in the game.

"The last shot was typical of what James does," coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. "The move, we've seen before. The finish, we've seen before. You do get spoilt by it at times, but in these biggest of moments, you can't help but appreciate it."

Harden scored a game-high 35 points, added eight rebounds and dished out nine assists. Donatas Motiejunas produced 14 points and 13 rebounds, while Dwight Howard also recorded a double-double (13 points and 13 rebounds) plus two blocks.

The Warriors still had a chance to win it but Draymond Green dribbled the ensuing inbound pass off his foot and out of bounds for a turnover with one second left.

"I cost us the game," admitted the forward, who turned the ball over seven times, missed half of his six free throws, and scored just nine points.

"The world will think I'm talking about that last turnover but I'm not. That happens. I was awful the whole game. I care about that turnover, but I cost us the game way before then."

Reserve forward Marreese Speights led Golden State with 22 points in 18 minutes. Klay Thompson contributed 17 points and eight rebounds, and Shaun Livingston, who again filled in for Curry, added 16 points.

What Speights started in the second quarter and carried through the third, Livingston picked up in the fourth.

Following a pair of Harrison Barnes free throws that sliced the Warriors' deficit to six points, Livingston added three jumpers, the last with 8:59 left to cut it to 80-81.

Despite following that spurt with a three-minute drought, the Warriors hung tough. Trailing 80-88, they rallied with seven consecutive points and later took their first lead since 2-0 when Clark nailed a floater with 1:25 left. That push to the lead seemed to cripple the Rockets, who instead found enough gumption to at least earn another trip to Oakland.

"A lot of people just get nervous and don't want to be in that situation," said Harden of his winning play. "For me, I strive in moments like that, so you just have to have confidence."

In the other Western Conference contest on Thursday , Kevin Durant scored a game-high 34 points, Russell Westbrook tallied 26 and the Oklahoma City Thunder cruised to a 131-102 first-round play-off win over the Dallas Mavericks.

With the victory in front of a crowd of 20,100 at the American Airlines Centre in Dallas, the Thunder grabbed a 2-1 lead.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 23, 2016, with the headline 'Rockets snatch vital win'. Print Edition | Subscribe