James Harden’s 50-point triple-double powered the Houston Rockets to a 119-108 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Saturday that sent San Antonio and Oklahoma City into the NBA playoffs.
Harden, the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player, scored 50 points, pulled down 11 rebounds and handed out 10 assists as the playoff-bound Rockets fended off a Kings squad that was officially eliminated from post-season contention with the defeat.
Harden had his 42nd career triple-double - reaching double digits in three key statistical categories - and his NBA record fifth with 50 or more points.
“I just tried to be aggressive, whether it was making assists or into the basket,” said Harden.
It was his third 50-point game in the last six and his seven three-pointers saw him become the ninth player in league history to reach 2,000 career three-pointers.
The Rockets needed every bit of that output to put away a Kings team fighting for their playoff lives.
Harden, who scored 31 points in the first half, got 12 in the final six minutes as the Rockets came back from a 93-91 deficit heading into the fourth quarter.
A 7-2 spurt from Houston saw the Rockets take a 98-95 lead, and it was nip-and-tuck until Harden scored all 10 points in a 10-2 Rockets run that gave them a 111-102 lead with 3:13 remaining.
From there the Kings wouldn’t get the deficit below seven points, as the Rockets turned the defensive screws – limiting Sacramento to 15 points in the final frame.
James said the defensive effort was crucial – and something the Rockets must cultivate for a deep playoff run.
“Obviously, this is the NBA and teams are going to make shots,” he said. “But when it’s time to get stops, we do a really good job of that. That’s something we can hang our hat on.”
Point guard Chris Paul added 22 points and Clint Capela chipped in 24 points with 15 rebounds for the Rockets, who improved to 49-28 and edged into third place in the Western Conference when the Portland Trail Blazers lost 99-90 to the Detroit Pistons to fall to 48-27.
“This was a much-needed win,” Rockets guard Eric Gordon said. “You know we’re trying to win the rest of these games for the rest of the year. Just try to build championship habits and just try to win every game.”
With Sacramento’s elimination all eight Western Conference playoff teams were confirmed, with the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder - both idle Saturday - the last two to clinch.
In the East, the battle rages for the last three playoff berths.
The sixth-placed Pistons helped their cause by ending Portland’s six-game winning streak.
Reggie Jackson scored 28 points and Andre Drummond added 22 with 19 rebounds as the Pistons overcame the absence of Blake Griffin, who was a late scratch with a sore left knee.
‘Every game means something’
The Pistons remained half a game ahead of the seventh placed Brooklyn Nets, who beat the playoff-bound Boston Celtics 110-96.
D’Angelo Russell scored 20 of his 29 points in the third quarter as the Nets broke open a close game and ended a two-game skid.
The Miami Heat kept their tenuous hold on the eighth and final Eastern berth with a 100-92 victory over the Knicks in New York.
Dion Waiters led Miami with a season-high 28 points, while Goran Dragic added 10 points and 10 assists.
“We understand, obviously, every game it means something in the standings of the playoff push,” Heat veteran Dwyane Wade said before the game.
But the Heat trailed 33-29 after the first quarter and 61-55 at halftime.
Tied at 79-79 heading into the fourth, the Heat opened the final frame with an 8-0 scoring run and finally pulled away from the last-placed Knicks.
But the Orlando Magic are still snapping at the Heat’s heels, downing the Indiana Pacers 121-116 to stay in touch.
Aaron Gordon scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and Nikola Vucevic added 19 points as the Magic rebounded from Thursday’s loss to Detroit.