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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Brian Barefield

Rockets lament late execution versus Clippers, credit James Harden’s heroics

Los Angeles Clippers point guard James Harden took Houston fans back down memory lane on Friday night at the Arena.

The former NBA MVP, who spent eight-plus seasons in Houston from October 2012 until January 2021, used an array of moves he used to display in the Toyota Center to help the Clippers defeat the Rockets, 106-100, while ending Houston’s six-game winning streak.

Harden, 34, received a pass from teammate Kawhi Leonard and was fouled as he hit his signature step-back 3-pointer with Houston defender Jae’Sean Tate closing out on him with under ten seconds left in the fourth quarter, and the game tied at 100.

“We put in a unit to switch everything and made him take a tough shot,” Rockets head coach Ime Udoka said. “Obviously, you don’t want to foul. You want to contest, especially a three. If they make it, you still have a chance. Worst-case scenario, he makes it and gets fouled. Kind of puts the game somewhat out of reach.”

Houston looked out of synch throughout certain parts of the game, mainly because they had not played in four consecutive days. They committed a lot of second-half turnovers, missed easy shots near the rim, and squandered leads by missing defensive assignments that often led to fouls. The Rockets allowed the Clippers a 12-1 closing run.

“We didn’t get good looks those last 90 seconds,” Rockets guard Fred VanVleet said. “We definitely have to clean up the execution late. That’s a veteran team. So, you got to be able to put them away. They’re not going to make it easy for you. Everyone is going to react to the last defensive possessions, but if we put a couple of extra points on the board, we get out of there with a win.”

VanVleet has competed against Harden numerous times and has been in the NBA long enough to have seen him defeat teams with late-game heroics. He becomes more challenging to defend when you have other All-Star caliber players, such as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, on the court, which kept Houston’s defense honest and and prevented the ability to defend Harden with multiple players.

Houston fought to keep the game close and even had a late lead. But in the end, as fate would have it, Harden became a menace to his former team, and the four-point play helped seal the deal.

“You got to put points on the board because they have so many weapons on the other end,” VanVleet said. “To play as good a defense as we did the whole possession, we switched, we fought. We fought Kawhi off, Jabari [Smith Jr.] did a great job. Kawhi swung it to James, and that’s what James has been doing for the last decade-plus.”

The Rockets (6-4) will have to use their limited time to clean up the mistakes, as they will be back in action on Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers (7-6). Since losing to Houston 10 days ago at the Toyota Center, they have won four out of their last five games.

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