James Harden scored 17 of his 47 points in the final 5:52 as the Houston Rockets beat the visiting Los Angeles Clippers 102-93 on Wednesday at Toyota Center.
Harden, who averaged a league-high 37.3 points per game entering Wednesday, shot 12-of-26 from the field and 7-of-13 from three-point range. He also made all but one of his 17 free-throw attempts and now has scored 40 or more points in five of his 11 games.
Clint Capela grabbed 20 rebounds for the 8-3 Rockets, who have outscored their opponents by an average of 12.4 points during their five-game winning streak.
The Clippers fell to 7-4 but are 7-2 when Kawhi Leonard plays. The 2019 NBA Finals MVP, who led the Clips with 26 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists on Wednesday, has missed two contests because of load management.
Rockets G James Harden: 47 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds
Rockets G Russell Westbrook: 17 points
Rockets C Clint Capela: 12 points, 20 rebounds
Clippers F Kawhi Leonard: 26 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists
Clippers G Lou Williams: 20 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists
Clippers F JaMychal Green: 14 points, 14 rebounds
Harden Puts Rockets on His Back
Harden shot 28.6 percent from the field (18-of-63) in his first three games, including a 6-of-40 mark from three-point range.
Whatever happened during those contests is clearly a thing of the past, however, as Harden is arguably playing the best basketball of his career during this win streak.
The Beard was sensational on an evening where the Rockets sorely needed his efforts with Russell Westbrook having an off-night (6-of-20, four first-quarter fouls). Harden delivered and then some, perhaps more notably during his final six minutes of play.
The Rockets led 31-15 after the first quarter, but the Clips chipped away at the lead before obtaining an 84-80 edge after a Leonard four-point play:
That's when Harden went to work.
The guard scored 17 points from that moment forward, a stretch that included an assist on a Westbrook three-pointer and a game-sealing steal on Leonard. Harden nailed a pair of huge threes during that span:
Harden went 3-of-5 from the field and nailed all nine of his free throws, helping the Rockets outscore the Clippers by 13 in the final 5:52 to vault into second place in the West.
The Rockets are difficult to beat when Harden plays like he did Wednesday. All Rockets not named Harden or Capela went just 15-of-53 from the field and 7-of-29 from long range. Somehow, that didn't matter, even against a tough Clippers team that should be making a deep playoff run come the spring of 2020.
Ultimately, Harden brought back memories of his epic midseason scoring stretch last season which included averaging 43.7 points in January.
The team around Harden now is better than it was last year with Westbrook in the mix, and if the left-hander plans on doing something like that again, then the Rockets could very well be winning the championship in June as the 11-year veteran told ESPN's Stephen A. Smith on Wednesday.
Clippers Lose Ugly Game, but Better Days Await
Wednesday's game will not go into the NBA's archives as one of the Association's most aesthetically pleasing offerings in recent memory.
The two teams combined for 38 personal fouls and 41 free throws. Both sides featured starters entering early foul trouble, with Westbrook notably getting four fouls in the first quarter alone. Neither team shot better than 39 percent from the field, and the Clippers missed half of their 14 free throws.
On the Clippers' end, Patrick Beverley fouled out, and Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell combined to shoot 10-of-34 off the bench. Los Angeles also trailed by 16 after the first quarter.
To their credit, the Clips battled back and even took a four-point lead in the fourth quarter before Harden sent the Clips home unhappy.
However, there's a simple takeaway after Los Angeles' first 11 games: This team is really good.
Los Angeles is arguably a top-four Western Conference team without six-time All-Star Paul George (recovery from shoulder surgeries), but when he makes his reported return Thursday, then the Clips can make a case for being the NBA's best.
The Clips were one of four NBA teams that were top 12 in offensive and defensive efficiency entering Wednesday, per ESPN.
That's despite playing a brutal 11-game schedule which has included games against the 8-2 Los Angeles Lakers, 6-4 Phoenix Suns, 8-3 Utah Jazz (twice), 7-3 Milwaukee Bucks, 7-3 Toronto Raptors and 8-3 Rockets.
In other words, six of their first 11 games have come against teams four games over .500 or better. Eventually, the schedule will ease up, which is bad news for the rest of the league as the Clippers play at full strength.
The Clips will welcome six-time All-Star Paul George back Thursday against the New Orleans Pelicans after the forward missed his team's first 11 games while recovering from shoulder surgeries, per Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. Game time is 8 p.m. ET at New Orleans' Smoothie King Center.
The Rockets will host the Indiana Pacers on Friday at 8 p.m. ET.