On a court filled with stars, none were bigger than James Harden on Monday.
Behind a second straight massive performance from the reigning league MVP, the Houston Rockets tied their Western Conference semifinals matchup with a 112-108 victory over the Golden State Warriors in a chippy Game 4.
The beginning of the game belonged to Stephen Curry, who threatened to break out after a poor Game 3 performance with 11 points in the first quarter to lead the Warriors to a 28-25 lead.
But Harden returned from another early trip to the locker room to lead the Rockets to take control of the game.
Harden drives a second-straight Houston win
Harden scored 13 in the second and finished with 38 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists as he and the Rockets dominated the 3-point line to keep Golden State from closing the gap.
Houston threatened to run away with the game, taking a 17-point second-half lead. But the Warriors made an 11-0 run in the third quarter fueled by Kevin Durant and closed the gap with a 7-0 run in the game’s final minutes to give themselves a chance to play for overtime.
Curry, Durant miss chances to extend game
Golden State had two chances to tie the game in the final seconds trailing 111-108, but open 3-point looks from Durant and Curry both missed.
The final seconds were a microcosm of the game, as the Warriors once again struggled to shoot from deep in an 8-of-33 (24.2 percent) performance from behind the arc.
Houston hit more than twice as many from distance, connecting on 17-of-50 (34.5 percent) 3-point attempts.
“Our motto was keep fighting,” Harden told TNT after the game. “Like I keep saying, we know how tough they are. We’ve got to keep fighting on both ends of the floor, stay in attack mode, be aggressive.”
Durant leads Warriors again
Durant countered Harden with another big game of his own, scoring 34 points to go with 7 rebounds and 5 assists.
Curry went cold after his hot opening quarter before finding his stroke again late, tallying 30 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds. After starting 2-of-10 from 3-point distance, he finished 4-of-14 — not vintage Steph, but a marked improvement from Saturday’s 7-of-23 performance from the field.
Another bad game for Klay
Klay Thompson struggled again, hitting 1-of-6 3-point attempts and 5-of-15 field goals in an 11-point, 7-rebound night. Green totaled 15 points 10 rebounds and 5 assists.
As a whole, it just wasn’t enough to overcome the firepower of Harden’s Rockets on their home floor.
Eric Gordon was Houston’s second-leading scorer with 20 points while P.J. Tucker tallied 17 points and 10 rebounds. Chris Paul logged 13 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists.
Physical play, pleading with the refs
Harden left the game in the first quarter after Durant elbowed him in the head as Harden drove for a layup, leaving him reeling on the ground and Durant clutching his elbow. He made a quick trip to the locker room before returning to the court as neither player suffered an injury.
It set the tone for a game that saw both teams continue to plead for foul calls and get visibly, physically frustrated with their opponents.
Midway through the third quarter, Harden caught Green with an elbow across his head that left him reeling on the floor, much in the same fashion Harden did in the first quarter.
The two have a history in the series, with Green responsible for Harden’s bloodshot left eye after swiping him across the face in Game 2 and lacerating his eyelid.
Green didn’t get a call on the play and appeared to take out his frustration on Paul on the ensuing possession after a being fouled under the basket.
High stakes for Game 5
The game ratcheted up the tension in a series between two teams quite familiar with each other on the playoff stage and sets up a pressure-packed Game 5 in Oakland on Wednesday.
After digging an 0-2 hole, Houston has clawed its way back into the series and now faces a chance to steal a road win to set up a potential close-out Game 6 at home.
After last season’s Game 7 loss at home in the Western Conference finals, it’s an opportunity the Rockets surely relish.