HOUSTON — Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni has witnessed James Harden have the only 60-point triple-double in NBA history, lead Houston to the Western Conference finals and win his first MVP award.
But what Harden has done for the previously underperforming Rockets in the last three games has topped anything the veteran coach has seen from his superstar player.
“I know he’s the MVP and everything, but this level the last three or four games is where it’s really high,” D’Antoni said. “It’s as good as he’s ever played.”
Harden scored 47 points to help the Rockets hold off the Utah Jazz 102-97 on Monday night for their fourth straight win.
It was Houston’s first victory over the Jazz this season after dropping the first two meetings. The team’s current winning streak comes following a three-game skid.
Monday’s performance came after Harden had 50 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists in a win over the Lakers on Thursday and another triple-double of 32 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in Saturday’s win at Memphis.
“He’s the best offensive player I’ve ever seen — like, seriously,” teammate Chris Paul said. “He can drive. He can shoot. He’s got ballhandling, so it’s going to be a tough night for you, whoever it is. I don’t care what you’re doing.”
Houston led by double digits early in the fourth quarter, but poor shooting left the Rockets tied with about two minutes left. A 3-pointer by Harden put Houston back on top and he added two free throws with about a minute remaining to make it 99-94.
Donovan Mitchell was fouled by Eric Gordon on a 3-pointer and made all three free throws to cut the lead to two with 35 seconds left.
Then, under heavy pressure from Ricky Rubio, Harden stepped back and hit a 3 to make it 102-97 with 13.3 seconds left, securing the victory.
Harden brushed off talk of his recent dominance, insisting that it’s something he has to do with the Rockets (15-14) in 10th place in the Western Conference.
“We’re in a hole,” he said. “I keep saying the same thing, but if you look at the standings it (stinks) to look and see you’re not where you’re supposed to be. We just continue to work and build our way up there.”
Mitchell had 23 points for the Jazz, who have lost four of five.
“We had a hard time scoring for a while, and that was about the same time we weren’t close enough to (Harden), and he rose up and hit a big 3 and made a series of plays,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said.
Harden, who hit 15 of 16 free throws, had six rebounds, five assists and five steals.
“He’s been getting really hot the last week, playing really aggressive, and we let him get to the free throw line, which was one of the things that we were talking about trying to avoid,” Rubio said.
The Rockets had a 10-point lead after three periods and Harden put them up by 11 on a 3-pointer with about nine minutes left in the fourth. Mitchell had a nifty spinning layup before the Rockets missed five shots over their next two possessions and Danuel House turned it over the next time down.
Mitchell’s layup started a 9-0 run for the Jazz, capped by a 3 from Rubio that got them to 90-88 with about 5 1/2 minutes left.
Harden scored Houston’s first points in more than 3 1/2 minutes after that, and things between him and Rudy Gobert got a little testy after that. Gobert fouled Harden as he dribbled down the court and Harden approached Gobert after the call. There was some minor pushing between the two before Harden walked away.
The Rockets led by 13 at halftime but Utah opened the third quarter with a 12-2 run to get to 52-49 with about 8 1/2 minutes left in the period.
Utah used a 7-0 spurt later in the quarter to take a 58-57 lead. But Harden took over after that, scoring all of Houston’s points in a 9-2 run that gave the Rockets a six-point lead with about 5 1/2 minutes left in the quarter. Harden converted three-point plays on consecutive possessions before hitting a 3 after a turnover by Jae Crowder.
Houston was up by four about a minute later when Harden sailed over the 7-foot-1 Gobert for a one-handed dunk before a 3-pointer by P.J. Tucker made it 73-64. Snyder was handed a technical after that for yelling at the officials, and Harden made the free throw.
Jazz: Gobert had 18 points and 13 rebounds. … The Jazz had 23 turnovers. … Crowder finished with 14 points.
Rockets: Waived F/C Zhou Qi. … James Ennis missed his third straight game with a strained right hamstring and D’Antoni said Ennis could be out as long as two weeks. … Brandon Knight had three points and a rebound in his third game back after missing last season while recovering from knee surgery. … Paul had 11 points and nine assists.
THEY SAID IT
Harden on his one-handed dunk over Gobert : “I still got some juice in these legs. For you bigs out there that want to keep testing (me),” Harden said before cracking up. “Nah, I’m just playing. The lane was open all night. The bigs were going back, taking away the lob, taking away the lob, so I had to get to the rim and finish.”
Jazz: Host Golden State on Wednesday night.
Rockets: Host Washington on Wednesday night.