Rockets blaze a new trail

James Harden, up against Portland Trail Blazers' Allen Crabbe, was a man with a mission on Wednesday. Stung by the sacking of coach Kevin McHale, the Houston Rockets guard scored 45 points.
James Harden, up against Portland Trail Blazers' Allen Crabbe, was a man with a mission on Wednesday. Stung by the sacking of coach Kevin McHale, the Houston Rockets guard scored 45 points.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Players lift performance after axing of coach McHale to earn OT victory over Portland

HOUSTON • Houston Rockets guard James Harden was quick to reference accountability in the wake of the firing of coach Kevin McHale. And in between the sudden dismissal that shocked the National Basketball Association and his post-game reflection, the player showcased how dangerous he is when engaged.

He posted a double-double and engineered a breathtaking comeback, leading the Houston Rockets to a 108-103 overtime victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday at Toyota Centre.

Harden finished with 45 points and 11 assists plus eight rebounds and five steals.

He scored 26 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to help the Rockets (5-7) snap a four-game losing streak in the debut of interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff.

Afterwards, Harden acknowledged that more than a coaching change was in order.

"Something had to change and I felt like for me, I had to change in order for us to be more positive, get more energy," he said.

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  • James Harden hit all nine Houston points in overtime. He also scored

    15 of their 38 in their fourth-quarter fightback to tie the game at 99-99.

"Whatever happened this morning, my mindset coming in today was just to be great at what I do, and that's being a leader and bringing great support on the team."

Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum finished with 19 points and hit what appeared to be a backbreaking three-pointer with 4:54 left in regulation after two free throws by guard Damian Lillard (23 points) halted an 8-0 Rockets run.

Houston had clawed to within 81-83 before the Lillard free throws and the McCollum trey bumped the deficit to seven.

But the Rockets would not relent. Harden sank a three-pointer with 38.6 seconds left to cut the deficit to 94-97. And after Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu (16 points, 15 rebounds) made two free throws with 6.6 seconds left to rebuild the lead to three, Rockets swingman Corey Brewer (16 points) nailed a running 30-footer with 0.9 second remaining to send the game to overtime tied 99-99.

"We are responsible," Brewer said of McHale's dismissal.

"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."

Rockets centre Dwight Howard grabbed 19 rebounds and forward Trevor Ariza added 18 points.

Bickerstaff, promoted to coach for the rest of the season from his position as an assistant to McHale, wants to return to "who we were when we had our most success".

The Rockets reached the Western Conference final last season, and while sacking McHale 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," he said.

"There is no time in the West."

The rugged conference is led by reigning NBA champions Golden State Warriors, 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.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2015, with the headline 'ROCKETS BLAZE A NEW TRAIL'. Print Edition | Subscribe