Rockets beat Nuggets on Harden's late basket
HOUSTON -- James Harden converted a coast-to-coast layup with 2.4 seconds remaining to cap a wild fourth quarter and give the Houston Rockets a 125-124 win over the Denver Nuggets on Monday night at Toyota Center.
Harden corralled the rebound of an errant shot from Nuggets guard Jameer Nelson and raced up the center of the court before scoring to give the Rockets (49-22) their final lead. Harden followed with a deflection on the subsequent inbounds pass intended for Nuggets center Mason Plumlee to seal the victory.
Six Rockets scored in double figures, with Harden leading the way with a game-high 39 points and 11 assists. Reserve Eric Gordon scored 18 points, including a pair of 3-pointers to open the fourth quarter that gave Houston the lead.
After Harden pushed the Rockets' lead to 123-118 with a 3-pointer at the 1:28 mark, Nuggets forward Will Barton answered with a trey and a three-point play through a Gordon foul with 42.1 seconds remaining.
Barton tallied 24 points off the bench for the Nuggets (33-37), who fell to 0-3 against Houston this season. Nikola Jokic posted 22 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists while Gary Harris scored a team-high 28 points on 10-of-16 shooting.
The Rockets got off to a blazing start, connecting on 4 of 6 3-pointers by the 5:06 mark of the first quarter en route to a 21-13 lead. They stretched that advantage to 13 before the Nuggets shot their way into contention, doing so while Houston missed six consecutive shots from behind the arc.
When Harden ended that drought with a corner 3 with 5:40 remaining in the half, the Nuggets led 51-49.
Denver held Houston to just one field goal for nearly four minutes to open the second quarter, fashioning a 12-5 run in the process.
Once in possession of the lead the Nuggets kept scoring, teasing the Rockets by allowing the deficit to slip to one point only to respond time and again in the third. Jokic tallied nine points in the period to keep the Rockets at bay.
It wasn't until Trevor Ariza sank a corner 3 that Houston pulled even at 85-85, and when Denver reclaimed the lead just prior to the end of the period, the Rockets needed a hail of 3s to move back in front early in the fourth.
NOTES: Initially announced as questionable, Nuggets F Wilson Chandler (right groin) and F Danilo Gallinari (left knee) were downgraded to out. Chandler missed his third consecutive game, Gallinari his second, leaving Denver coach Mike Malone hopeful that both could return on Wednesday against the Cavaliers. ... Rockets G James Harden recorded his 25th game with 30-plus points and 10-plus assists this season. He had eight 30-10 games in 2015-16. ... Nuggets F Darrell Arthur did not make the trip to Houston and remains sidelined with knee soreness. There is no timetable for his return.