Rockets edge Warriors in overtime thriller

Houston’s Harden celebrates a three-point shot in the Rockets 126-121 overtime win over the Golden State Warriors in the NBA playoffs second round. (AFP pic)

LOS ANGELES: James Harden out-dueled Kevin Durant down the stretch to lift the Houston Rockets to a 126-121 overtime victory over Golden State on Saturday that trimmed the deficit in their NBA playoff series.

Harden drained a three-pointer with 49 seconds left in overtime and after Durant made three free throws he added a step-back floater that proved the final dagger.

“Close the game – that’s what I’m here for, that’s what I do,” said Harden, who finished with 41 points, nine rebounds and six assists.

“He’s phenomenal,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said of Harden. “I don’t even think he played great – in Harden-world. He could even go up to another level.”

The Rockets, coming off back-to-back defeats on Golden State’s home floor in Oakland, California, narrowed the gap in the best-of-seven Western Conference second-round series to 2-1.

The Rockets withstood a 46-point performance from Durant, who threatened to spoil the Rockets’ return home when he opened the fourth quarter on a 10-2 scoring spree that saw the Warriors turn a seven-point deficit into a 94-93 lead.

In a see-saw final period, two free throws from Harden knotted the score at 112-112 with 38.7 seconds left.

Durant missed a jump shot and then Houston point guard Chris Paul got wrapped up by Klay Thompson and Durant as he drove for a basket and it went to overtime.

“It’s going to be a fight, every possession, every game,” Harden said. “You’ve got to be physically tough, mentally tough.”

Forward Eric Gordon scored 30 points – 20 in the first half – and Clint Capela added 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Rockets.

In addition to Durant’s big night, Draymond Green posted his sixth career playoff triple-double with 19 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists for the Warriors.

Andre Iguodala scored 16 points, connecting on three of four three-pointers to help the Warriors challenge despite a poor shooting night for Stephen Curry and Thompson, who combined to make just four of 15 from three-point range.

Curry’s tough night

Curry, who finished with 17 points, scored zero in the fourth quarter and overtime with four fouls. He missed both a layup and a dunk with his team trailing in the extra session.

“He just had a tough night,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Curry. “It doesn’t matter how good you are, you’re going to have some bad games – just a tough night for him. It just didn’t happen.”

After D’Antoni had urged his players to “get down in the mud” and toughen up defensively for game three, Kerr noted Houston’s response.

“Let’s be honest, it would have been a steal if we won that game. They out-played us,” said Kerr, noting that after a dismal rebounding effort in game two the Rockets had 20 more rebounds than the Warriors.

“They were the more physical, aggressive team right from the beginning,” Kerr said. “We made that run in the fourth quarter based on Kevin’s brilliance, and I felt like we started competing better at that point.”

Overall, however, Kerr couldn’t begrudge the Rockets the victory.

“I thought they deserved to win,” he said.