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Harden scores 55, Rockets withstand scare from Cavs

CLEVELAND (AP) — James Harden dropped another one of those demoralizing step-back 3-pointers that have made him famous, causing Cavaliers rookie Kevin Porter Jr. to look at Cleveland’s bench for help.

Nothing could be done.

“He made a lot of shots you can’t do anything about,” Porter said.

A lot of them.

Harden scored 55 points — 20 in the fourth quarter — and Russell Westbrook added 23 points as the Houston Rockets withstood an unexpected scare from Cleveland and held on for a 116-110 win Wednesday night over the free-falling Cavs, who have lost eight straight and 14 of 15.

Harden made four 3-pointers and shot 7 of 8 in the fourth while matching Kyrie Irving’s arena record for points in a game. His fourth 50-point performance this season bailed out the Rockets, who allowed the Cavs to score 24 straight points in the second half.

“He’s incredible,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “If it was the first time he’s done this, I’d be like, ‘Wow! Look at that,’ but he’s done it at this level for years.”

Harden became the fourth player in NBA history with multiple games of 10 or more 3-pointers, joining Golden State’s Stephen Curry (15) and Klay Thompson (5), and former Cavs guard J.R. Smith (3).

Cleveland was still leading 108-107 when Harden, who came in as the league’s top scorer at 38 points per game, dropped a floater in the lane with 1:03 left. After a turnover by Cavs guard Jordan Clarkson, P.J. Tucker hit a 3-pointer from the corner and Clint Capela had a dunk following another Cleveland miscue.

The inexperienced Cavs crumbled in the final minute, making three turnovers.

But it was their inability to slow down Harden that was their biggest undoing. His 55 points seemed almost effortless as if he could score whenever he pleased.

Need a bucket? Call on Harden. A 3-pointer? He’s the man. Whatever Houston needed, Harden got it for the Rockets.

“We caught a guy who plays at an MVP level,” Love said. “He couldn’t miss.”

Harden finished 20 of 34 from the floor, including 10 of 18 on 3s. He made all five free throws, added eight assists and two steals.

“Good defense turned into James Harden offense,” D’Antoni said. “I’ve got nothing but praise for him on the defensive end, in addition to the offensive end. He realized that for us to win big, he’s got to do it (play defense) — and he is doing it. He’s always in the right position.”

Harden shrugged off another big personal night. saying the Rockets have learned they’re going to get the other team’s best shot every game.

“We’re a great team,” he said. “We get their best whether they come to our place or when we’re on the road — so teams are like, ‘We’re playing the Rockets, so we have extra juice.'”

Capela added 13 rebounds for Houston, which figured to have an easy time with the Cavs, who are struggling under first-year coach John Beilein.

Cleveland, though, came to play and was led by rookie Kevin Porter Jr.’s season-high 24 points. Collin Sexton added 18 and Kevin Love had 17 points and 11 boards.

Harden connected on a pair of 3-pointers during a 16-2 run in the third quarter when the Rockets, who were sleepwalking through long stretches of the first half, appeared to take control.

But Houston relaxed, and Cleveland went on a jaw-dropping 24-0 run — all without Love, who was on the bench — over a 4:53 stretch bridging the third and fourth quarters to a take a 99-88 lead on Porter’s bucket.

Harden stopped the Cavs’ surge with bucket in the lane and scored Houston’s next 13.

LONG RUN

Cleveland’s 24-point spurt was the club’s longest since a 29-0 burst on Dec. 6, 2009 against Milwaukee.

POINT, COUNTER POINT

Harden is the third player to score at least 50 in the building’s history, joining Irving (55) and Allen Iverson (54, 50), who did it twice.

UP NEXT

Rockets: Visit the Orlando Magic on Friday. Houston has won 11 of the last 14 games in the series.

Cavaliers: Begin a three-game road trip at San Antonio on Thursday.

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