NEW ORLEANS (AP) — James Harden dribbled inside the 3-point line, surveyed the court and saw the Pelicans weren't going to throw a quick double-team at him to try to force the ball out of his hands with the game on the line.
The Houston star dipped his shoulder and took one quick step toward New Orleans' Austin Rivers, then stepped back and nailed a 22-foot, tiebreaking jumper with 28 seconds left. The shot capped a 26-point outing that led the Rockets to a third straight victory, 103-100 on Wednesday night.
"I was reading what the other four players were doing and they all stayed home," Harden said. "It was mano-a-mano."
That Harden's heroics were even needed was a bit of a surprise against hobbled, reeling New Orleans, which was without three top players — Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans — and came in on a six-game skid. But Eric Gordon scored a season-high 35 points, including 22 in the first half when New Orleans led by as much as 17, a lead bigger than any it had blown this season.
"When they've got a guy like that on their team that can get going like he can, there's not really too much you can say about being short-handed," said Houston forward Terrence Jones, who scored 25 points. "We fought. That's what I'm most proud of. No matter how much of a struggle, we never gave up."
Dwight Howard added 12 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks for the Rockets, who still trailed by eight with about four minutes to go. Harden had a hand in 12 of Houston's final 17 points, scoring 10 and assisting on Howard's alley-oop dunk.
"He's our closer, so he did what closers do," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "We needed it."
Anthony Davis scored 24 points for New Orleans, his sixth straight game with 20 or more, but he was hampered by foul trouble early in the third quarter after committing three fouls in a span of 1:34, giving him four for the game and prompting coach Monty Williams to bring his star forward to the bench.
Still, Davis and Gordon almost did enough to prevent a seventh straight loss, but the Pelicans struggled offensively in the final couple minutes, when they scored only one point on Davis' foul shot, which tied the game at 100. On a previous possession, Gordon threw a pass behind Davis and out of bounds. After Harden's clutch jumper, the Pelicans' Jason Smith tried to answer from the top of the key, but his shot rimmed out.
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