Harden scored 11 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, helping Houston rally for a 100-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday night.
Coming off an impressive 111-98 win at San Antonio on Christmas, coach Kevin McHale said he could tell the Rockets were "draggy" during the pregame shootaround. But they still managed to outscore the Grizzlies 34-20 in the final period of their third victory in four games.
Harden struggled from the field, going 2 for 9, but was a career-best 22 of 25 from the free throw line. He made 9 of 11 foul shots in the final quarter while matching a Rockets single-game record for made free throws set by Sleepy Floyd in 1991.
Harden because the first player in NBA history to register 27 points on two or fewer made field goals.
"Just being aggressive, being aggressive," Harden said of the free throws. "I couldn't make a shot. I just tried to get to the rim. We were kind of stagnant through the middle of the game, especially the third quarter, so I just wanted to get in attack mode."
Houston star Dwight Howard battled foul trouble for most of the game and was held to two points and six rebounds. He was whistled for his fifth foul with 7:52 left in the third and never returned to the action.
McHale said he wanted to get Howard back in the game, but the center's back stiffened while he was on the bench, and he liked the energy reserve Donatas Montiejunas brought to the game.
"D-Mo played with energy," McHale said. "We were having a hard time getting our energy up. Last night was a big game. . Guys put a lot of emotional and physical effort in last night's game, and I really extended guys, and I extended them again tonight."
Howard said he felt OK, but the guys on the court were playing well, and he didn't want to mess up their rhythm.
Montiejunas only had four points but he played 23 minutes, including all of the fourth quarter, and was able to help slow Zach Randolph, who scored five points while playing all the fourth.
Randolph, who had a team-high 23 points and 17 rebounds, said the officiating played a big role in the loss.
"It was the refs tonight," said Randolph, who received a technical late in the fourth. "Eight against five. The game in the second half, a man was shooting free throws every time. We were out there playing hard, and they were dictating the game. It can't be like that. We are out there playing, too.
"It was horrible refereeing, it was a horrible game they reffed tonight. Awful. They dictated the game. We are out there working as hard as them."
The Rockets made up for Howard's slow night with four players in double figures. Terrence Jones scored 20 points, and Chandler Parsons had 15 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. Jeremy Lin had 14 of his 18 points in the fourth.
Trailing 76-66 with 10:55 to go, Houston used a 21-5 run over nearly six minutes to take an 87-81 lead on two Harden free throws with five minutes left. Lin powered the surge with 10 points, including two 3-pointers, and Harden added six points in the decisive stretch.
"I just tried to stay aggressive," Lin said. "I know I had a lot of mistakes early on, and I am thankful to God that I got in a rhythm. We really didn't feel good out there. It was an ugly game all around."
After trading 3-pointers, Harden extended Houston's lead to eight on a jumper with 1:49 remaining. Tayshaun Prince hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to five, but Houston went 8 for 10 at the line to close it out.
The Rockets were just 5 for 24 from beyond the arc against the Grizzlies. But they made three 3s in the fourth quarter and enjoyed a dominant night at the line, making 33 of 40 free throws, compared to 11 for 20 for the Grizzlies.
Memphis reserve James Johnson had 12 points, and Kosta Koufos had five points and 11 boards to help the Grizzlies to a 49-41 rebounding advantage, including a 20-7 margin on the offensive glass that led to 21 second-chance points.
"I don't think it got away anywhere," Memphis coach Dave Joerner said. "They made shots, we didn't score, we had 12 points going into the last minute (of the fourth quarter). I think going on the road, it can be difficult. They're a good team, and they made plays."