HOUSTON — Houston Rockets guard James Harden eyed the scoreboard that showed the New York Knicks’ six-point lead with less than nine minutes left in the fourth quarter on Nov. 24.
He knew it was time to bring his depleted team back.
Harden scored 12 of his 36 points in the last five minutes in a clutch performance at the finish to lead the Rockets over the Knicks 91-86.
“I just wanted to be aggressive when my teammates look for me to knock down shots and try to make plays,” Harden said.
Houston (11-3) played without center Dwight Howard (knee) and point guard Patrick Beverley (hamstring), but Harden had half of the Rockets’ 14 3-pointers to overwhelm the Knicks, who played the second half without star forward Carmelo Anthony.
Anthony left the game with back spasms with less than two minutes remaining in the first half and did not return. Anthony had 14 points.
Anthony, who was unavailable to the media following the game, was taken to a local doctor for pain medication before a flight to Dallas, where the Knicks take on the Mavericks on Nov. 26, a team representative said.
“Back spasms are really tough to deal with,” Knicks coach Derek Fisher said. “He felt very uncomfortable, and we have to see tomorrow.”
Jose Calderon and Travis Wear both had 9 points for the Knicks (4-11), who fell to 1-6 on the road and suffered their 10th loss in the last 12 games. Despite leaving so early in the game, Anthony led Knicks scorers, and none of his teammates scored in double figures.
Six other players scored at least eight points, including five bench players. The Knicks made only two field goals in the final five minutes of the game.
“We just couldn’t finish,” Fisher said. “We were unable to keep our offense going. The Rockets got running in the fourth, and we weren’t able to stop them.”
The Rockets won their 10th straight game against New York and their 19th consecutive game against the Eastern Conference at the Toyota Center, the longest active winning streak of a team against the opposing conference in the NBA.
“We got different lineups and different guys playing, but we went out there and found a way,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said.
The Rockets led by double-digits for parts of the first half, but a 7-2 run at the end of the first half helped the Knicks cut Houston’s lead to 51-46 at halftime.
The Knicks’ defense tightened up in the third quarter. They held the Rockets to just 18 points and climbing to a 69-69 tie to enter the fourth quarter.
In Anthony’s absence, the bench rose to the occasion on the defensive end as Amar’e Stoudemire had three blocks and Shane Larkin added three steals.
Tim Hardaway, Jr., hit a 3-pointer with eight minutes and 50 seconds remaining in the game to give the Knicks a 78-72 lead, but Harden’s scoring in the final minutes of the game proved too much for New York.
With Anthony in the locker room and Harden the game’s most dominant scorer, the Houston crowd chanted, “MVP, MVP, MVP!” in the closing minutes.