If James Harden win the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award after the season, the Rockets 117-112 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t do anything to hurt his case. Sunday at Toyota Center, Harden scored 38 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and dished out 11 assists in front of a national audience.
Harden and the Rockets out-dueled LeBron James and the defending champs despite trailing by 14 points in the first half. His 11 point, 5 assist first quarter helped the Rockets to a 33-26 lead after a quarter, but with Harden on the bench, the Cavs made their run in the second quarter.
The Rockets guard sat for the first 6:37 of the second quarter, and re-entered the game with the Rockets down five. Cleveland shot 71 percent from the field (15-of-21) in the quarter, draining 7-of-11 from behind the 3-point arc. They scored 41 points in the period and led 67-58 at halftime, but the Rockets outscored them 32-19 in the third quarter taking a 90-86 lead into the fourth.
As he did in the first quarter, Harden scored 11 in the third, and after allowing the Cavs to shoot 63 percent from the field in the first half, they held them to 38 percent shooting in quarter number three.
Harden sat as the fourth quarter started, but didn’t sit there for long. Channing Frye’s 3-pointer 105 seconds in capped a 10-4 run and gave the Cavs a 2-point lead. After a timeout, Harden was brought back in the game, and didn’t leave it again.
The lead changed hands six times in the period, but Harden’s layup with 6:40 left gave the Rockets the lead for good.
Cleveland scored just 45 second half points on 41 percent shooting as it falls to 42-23 on the season, 2-7 in March.
James finished with 30 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Kyrie Irving added 28 points, and Richard Jefferson made all six of his shots for 16 points, but did not take a single field goal attempt in 16 second half minutes.
Houston improves to 46-21, increasing its lead over Utah for the 3-seed to 4.5 games. They grabbed 20 offensive rebounds and committed just 6 turnovers. Houston took 16 more field goal attempts and 15 more free throw attempts.
Ryan Anderson scored 16 points, while Patrick Beverley and Eric Gordon added 13.