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Harden has last laugh as Rockets silence Thunder


James Harden of the Houston Rockets, left, is fouled by Enes Kanter of the Oklahoma City Thunder as he drives to the basket in their NBA game at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, on Thursday.

Photo: AFP

Russell Westbrook repeatedly had his way with the Rockets defense, torching it to the tune of a Toyota Center scoring record for an opponent before three late misses set the table for James Harden to play the role of facilitator at the most opportune time for Houston.

Nene corralled a pass from Harden, absorbed a foul and sank two free throws with 0.7 seconds left as the Houston Rockets eked out a 118-116 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday.

Off an inbounds play originating with 3.8 seconds left, Nene set a screen for Harden and rolled to the rim. Harden followed by passing out of the double team, hitting Nene in stride and forcing Thunder forward Jerami Grant to commit the foul.

Nene finished with a season-high 18 points over 17 minutes.

“They [the Thunder] did a good job [setting up defensively] on the first play, so we called a timeout,” Harden said. “I just got open and I saw two defenders guarding me, made the simple play to Nene and he knocked down two free throws.”

Harden posted 26 points, eight rebounds and 12 assists.

All five Rockets starters scored in double figures, including guard Patrick Beverley (11 points, eight rebounds). Eric Gordon scored 22 off the bench.

The Rockets (28-9) regained possession after Westbrook missed a pull-up jumper with 5.7 seconds left, his third consecutive errant shot following a three-pointer that cut the Houston lead to 114-113 with 2:38 left.

Westbrook scored 49 points, sinking a career-best eight three-pointers. He added eight rebounds and five assists for the Thunder (21-16), who have lost four of five games and three in succession.

Houston took a 2-1 season-series lead against the Thunder, with all three contests decided by one possession.

“It’s fun, definitely fun,” Rockets forward Trevor Ariza said. “It’s all you can ask for — a hard-fought game and we get the win at the end of it.”

After the Rockets erased a 14-point deficit with a 25-point turnaround in the first half, the Thunder returned the favor by wiping away an 85-67 third-quarter deficit.

Victor Oladipo (17 points) capped the rally with a corner three for a 116-114 lead at the 1:55 mark.

The Thunder bludgeoned the Rockets on the boards in the fourth, chipping away behind Enes Kanter (15 points, 13 rebounds) and Westbrook.

Westbrook scored nine points in the period and Oklahoma City turned six offensive rebounds into eight second-chance points in the fourth, nut Westbrook missed six of eight shots in the quarter as the Thunder failed to maintain the momentum.

“There is nothing to take you through,” Westbrook said of his final attempt. “I missed the shot.”

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