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by: Kris Gardner, United States Basketball Writers Association member. Credentialed media member since 1997. USBWA approved online journalist. Voter of Lowe's Senior CLASS, Naismith, USBWA, and Wooden awards.

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Harden scores 44 in Rockets' 108-98 win over Nets

Posted: December 28, 2019 -- 11:49 p.m. CT

HOUSTON, TX (Toyota Center) -- The Houston Rockets lost a 22 point lead Saturday night; but, James Harden and defense down the stretch helped the Rockets defeat the Brooklyn Nets 108-98. Earlier this season, the Nets scored 123 points, in a 123-116 Nets' win, versus the Rockets in the first meeting between the teams on November 1.

Harden scored 44 points on 17 for 27 field goal shooting including 6 for 10 from three-point range; however, the rest of the Rockets shot 7 for 32 from three-point range. Austin Rivers made 4 of 9 threes while Danuel House Jr went 2 for 10 and Ben McLemore made just 1 of 6 from behind the long line.

Harden was sensational in the first quarter. He scored 23 points on 9 of 11 shooting. Russell Westbrook scored 14 on 7 for 9 field goal shooting. Harden and Westbrook combined to score Houston's first 37 points in the first quarter.

Rockets' center Isaiah Hartenstein scored a layup (assist from Westbrook) with 94 seconds remaining in the quarter to be the first Rockets player other than Harden and Westbrook to score in the period. Then, 33 seconds later, McLemore made a three-point basket to put the Rockets ahead 42-20 at the end of the first 12 minutes.

Houston shot 75.0% (18 for 24) in the opening quarter while Brooklyn shot 38.9% (7 for 18) from the floor.

"We were so hot early that although we were up 22 (points)," Rockets Head Coach Mike D'Antoni said after the game. "But, we were making everything and they were missing everything."

After his hot shooting in the first quarter, Westbrook made 2 of 11 field goal attempts in the second quarter. Harden only took 2 shots in the quarter as the Nets began trapping him and making him pass the ball to open teammates.

The Rockets shot 9 for 27 in the second quarter; and, Brooklyn outscored Houston 34-21 in the quarter to trim the Rockets' lead 63-54 at halftime.


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Isaiah Hartenstein was a bright spot for the Rockets in the first half: he scored a career-high tying 9 points in the half including 7 in the second quarter. Hartenstein finished the game with 9 points and 13 rebounds.

"He was good tonight," D'Antoni said of Hartenstein. "But, I got to know that's what I'll get when I put him in there; so, hopefully, he'll get to that point."

"He did an unbelievable job," Harden said of Hartenstein's performance. "You know, Clint (Capela) is out; and, he had an opportunity to take advantage of it and he played extremely well. He played extremely hard. For a young guy, that's all that you can ask for."

Harden scored 11 of the Rockets' 25 points in the third quarter. Houston led 88-72 2:03 remaining in the quarter; but, the Nets scored the final 7 points of the quarter and the first 7 points of the fourth to get within 88-86 of the Rockets with 10:26 on the clock.

The Nets' run stretched to 18-1 when center DeAndre Jordan tipped in a missed field goal attempt. Houston trailed 90-89 after Jordan's tip-in.

Russell Westbrook's dunk gave Houston a 91-90 lead; however, Brooklyn's Theo Pinson scored a reverse layup for a 92-91 lead with 7:24 remaining.

Harden scored a floater to begin an 8-0 Rockets' run and a 99-92 lead with 4:32 left in the ball game. The Nets got within 5 twice; however, with the Rockets ahead by 6 points (104-98) with less than 1 minute remaining, Harden swished a step back three-point shot to put the game away.

"The last four or five minutes, the defense was good," D'Antoni said. "You've got to be able to rely on defense when the shots don't go and I felt like tonight we did it."

Houston's next game is Sunday, December 29, on the road, versus the New Orleans Pelicans. Tip is set for 7 p.m.

NOTES:

Russell Westbrook scored 23 points Saturday night. Russ has scored 20 or more points in each of his past 10 games played, tying for the longest streak by a Rocket besides Harden since an 11-game span by Tracy McGrady from February 13 to March 9, 2007.

Austin Rivers led all reserves with 14 points while shooting 4-of-9 from 3-point range. The Rockets are 7-3 when he scores in double-figures this season after going 15-5 in 2018-19.

The Nets' 98 points is the third time the Rockets have held the opposition below 100 points this season; and, the first since November 13 against the L.A. Clippers. Dating back to 2018-19, Houston is 18-2 when opponents scored below 100 points.

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