LOS ANGELES (AFP, REUTERS) - James Harden continues to be the Houston Rockets' driving force, delivering his 24th 40-point performance on Sunday (March 3) while the Boston Celtics fell back into their bad habits.
The 29-year-old finished with 42 points, including six three-pointers, as the Rockets overcame a Celtic rally for a 115-104 victory in the National Basketball Association in front of 18,600 at the Boston Garden.
The Rockets watched their 28-point lead dwindle to single digits. But they did what they have always done this season by turning to Harden - the main offensive weapon behind their quest for a favourable seeding in the Western Conference play-offs.
In another game, Blake Griffin had 27 points and seven rebounds and the streaking Detroit Pistons scored the final 10 points of overtime to defeat the visiting Toronto Raptors 112-107.
Luke Kennard and Reggie Jackson had 19 points apiece for Detroit, who have won nine of their last 11 to reach the .500 mark. Andre Drummond had 15 points and 17 rebounds despite foul trouble. Wayne Ellington added 11 points for Detroit, who beat coach Dwane Casey's former team for the second time this season.
Kyle Lowry led the Raptors (46-18) with 35 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Pascal Siakam had 21 points, nine rebounds and five assists, while O.G. Anunoby and Marc Gasol added 13 points apiece.
Houston entered their game against Boston in fifth place in the Western Conference standings, one behind fourth-placed Oklahoma City.
With 1:44 left in the fourth and Houston leading 112-104, Harden fouled out of the contest - but by then the damage had been done.
He shot 14-of-31 from the floor and went 8-of-9 from the free-throw line.
Eric Gordon added 32 points and had eight three-pointers for the Rockets, who have been trying to maintain consistency despite a constant roster flux because of injuries.
The Celtics fell behind by 28 points before going on a 17-6 run at the beginning of the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 106-96.
Kyrie Irving tallied 24 points, nine rebounds and six assists and Al Horford finished with 19 points for the Celtics, who have lost five of their last six games.
The struggling Celtics were coming off their first win since the All-Star Game break on Friday over the Washington Wizards.
But any positive feeling was blunted by the loss to Houston as the Celtics fell back into their old ways, shooting just 29 per cent (8-of-28) from three-point range.
It does not get much easier for the Celtics, who play their next four games on the road, opening against the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors.
The one piece of good news is they travel to Staples Centre to face the Los Angeles Lakers (30-33), who despite having LeBron James are struggling even more than Boston (38-26).
The Rockets (38-25) next face the Raptors on Tuesday.