CLEVELAND (AP) — Surrounded by two superstars in his first three seasons, James Harden had few opportunities to take over games in the fourth quarter.
He sure looks comfortable in that role right now.
Harden scored 29 points, including 16 in the final period, and the Houston Rockets defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 112-104 on Saturday night.
“James sure made a couple of big shots, no doubt about that,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “He made some great plays and as a team, we found a way to make plays through him. He waved the (post player) off a couple of times because he wanted to go one-on-one. He was really feeling it there.”
Playing alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Harden helped Oklahoma City reach the NBA Finals last season. He was traded to Houston in October and is averaging a career-best 26.3 points with the Rockets.
“You saw him in a situation in OKC where he was part of that three-headed monster,” Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said. “Sometimes guys want that to have that spotlight and want to be the man and some of them can’t handle it. Obviously he’s been able to handle it extremely well.”
Harden, who had four points in the first half, made 6 of 17 field-goal attempts, but was 14 of 15 at the line and had a career-high seven steals. He had no explanation for his struggles early in the game.
“To be honest, during shootaround and before the game, my shots all felt good,” he said. “Then I couldn’t get them to go in the first half. It’s weird.”
Kyrie Irving led Cleveland with 30 points, including 11 in the final period, but tied his career high with eight turnovers. Although Irving kept Cleveland in the game, he blamed himself for not taking care of the basketball.
“I take full responsibility,” he said. “That’s the difference in the game right there.”
The Cavaliers were trying to win two in a row for the second time this season. Center Anderson Varejao, the league’s leading rebounder, missed his ninth straight game with a bruised right knee.
Harden has topped the 20-point mark in each of his last 16 games. He scored seven straight points for Houston during one key stretch in the final period. He made a foul shot and converted a three-point play to help the Rockets build a 91-86 lead.
Then Harden made a 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down, making it 94-88 with 5:52 remaining. He lost control of his dribble at the top of the key, hurriedly retrieved the ball and hit the shot over Dion Waiters.
“The regular shot feels good, but the shot that I heaved up and prayed about to go in went in,” he said.
Jeremy Lin added 20 points for Houston, which has won 11 of 14 and is 14-2 against the Eastern Conference.
Harden added another 3-pointer with 3:58 left for a 100-92 lead. Lin’s three-point play and Carlos Delfino’s 3-pointer helped Houston maintain the lead, but Irving hit a pair of 3-pointers and a foul shot.
Harden made a jumper with 45.7 seconds left and added two free throws at the 29.6-second mark to make it 110-103.
The Rockets trailed by 18 in the second quarter of Friday night’s 115-101 victory at Milwaukee. They trailed by 10 in the first quarter against Cleveland, but managed to rally for another win.
Patrick Patterson scored 15 points for Houston while Marcus Morris and Greg Smith had 11 apiece. Smith also had 11 rebounds.
Alonzo Gee scored 18 points for Cleveland. Tristan Thompson added 14 points and 16 rebounds.
Irving, whose jump shot with one second left gave the Cavaliers a 106-104 win over Charlotte on Friday, brought the crowd to its feet in the first quarter when he spun around a defender while dribbling at midcourt and drove in for a layup.
Houston took its first lead midway through the second quarter on Harden’s layup. Irving’s three-point play gave the Cavaliers a 39-37 lead, but Lin, who scored all 14 of his first-half points in the quarter, hit two 3-pointers and a jumper to help Houston take a 54-50 lead at halftime. The Rockets hit six 3-pointers in the quarter.
Irving and Harden each scored nine points in the third quarter and the game was tied at 78 going into the final period.
NOTES: Asked about rookie F Royce White’s status with the organization, McHale said, “I have no idea.” White, the 16th overall pick in the June draft, has spent most of the season on the inactive list while he and the team figure out how to handle his anxiety disorder. He refused his assignment to Houston’s D-League affiliate last week. … Scott hopes Varejao will be able to practice Tuesday. “The last report was he went through his workout the other day and felt the best that he’s felt,” Scott said. … Cavs G Daniel Gibson (concussion) missed his fourth straight game.