The Rockets narrowly avoided giving Philadelphia its first win of the season, but came through in the fourth for an 88-87 win.
The 0-7 76ers were coming off a 53-point loss the night before, but showed no fear to the 7-1 Rockets early. Philadelphia shot 60% FG in the first quarter (compared to Houston’s 38%) and build a 13-point lead.
“Well, they (Philadelphia) had 28 points in the first quarter which I think they had 28 (points) in the first half last night. We just kept on talking about grinding it out. I kept telling the guys ‘Sometimes you gotta win with grit and sometimes you gotta win with nothing,'” Kevin McHale said.
The Rockets have been one of the league’s best 3-point shooting teams and came into the game hitting 10 or more in all eight games this season. However, the shot was not falling as Houston went 2-11 3PTM in the first quarter.
Isaiah Canaan tried to get the team going with two consecutive 3-pointers to cut the Philly lead to 5 in the second quarter. The Rockets continued to rally, even briefly grabbing a 2-point lead before the 76ers responded and sent both teams to the locker room tied at 47.
James Harden gave fans a bit of a scare for the second consecutive game after he headed to the locker room with some abdominal pain. The Beard returned and sparked Houston’s second-half comeback.
Harden opened the half by finding Dwight Howard for a thunderous alley-oop. Howard had only 6 points and 3 rebounds in the first half, but joined Harden in rallying the Rockets, notching seven total blocks (his highest single-game block total as a Rocket). He heated up on both ends of the court, finishing with 21 points and 16 rebounds for his seventh double-double in the eight games he’s played this season.
“We struggled on the offensive end. We struggled on the defensive end early in the game, but we found a way to stay in the game and make plays. We’ve got to continue to do that. We are going to have those nights where we can’t find the basket and we got to hang our hats on the defensive end,” Howard said.
But even with Howard’s dominance, Philadelphia would not let up. The Rockets went up by as many as seven, but the Sixers closed the third on a 12-4 run to recapture the lead.
The Rockets entered the fourth trailing for only the second time this season and struggled to overtake the 76ers until momentum swung in their favor after Philadelphia head coach Brett Brown was called for a technical foul. The Rockets pulled within 1 with a minute to go.
Enter James Harden. With the game on the line, Harden took the ball straight to the rim for what would be the game-winning bucket with nine seconds left. Harden finished with 35 points, seven assists and six rebounds.
“That’s what I do. I get to the rim. Sometimes I get my shot blocked, sometimes I’m going to miss layups. That’s my game, I just have to have confidence in it. When coach puts the ball in my hands, I try to go make a play,” Harden said.
Harden finished with 35 points, seven assists and six rebounds. Harden also entered the game leading the league in free throws made per game at 9.3 and went 14-16 from the free throw line – his fifth game this season making 10 or more free throws. There are only 5 games this season in which a player has made 14+ FT in a single game, James is responsible for 4 of those games.
“It was tough. It was tough for all of us. That’s the improvement that we’ve grown from last year. Last year we probably would have lost that game. But this year, we’re focused on the defense. They got off to a great start in the first quarter of scoring the basketball. Even though we didn’t make shots, our defense kept us in the game, and we got the win,” Harden said.
The Rockets head to Oklahoma City for a matchup with the Thunder on Sunday night.