Harden helps Rockets race past Knicks
NEW YORK — Kristaps Porzingis embarrassed himself early, dribbling the ball off his leg on the New York Knicks’ first possession Wednesday against the visiting Houston Rockets.
Then it was James Harden’s turn.
Harden took the Knicks’ star young big man to the floor on a crossover dribble leading to a wide-open Trevor Ariza 3-pointer, one of nine assists for the point guard to go along with 31 points in Houston’s 119-97 win over the Knicks.
Harden shot 9 of 23 from the field and made six 3-pointers as the Rockets rebounded from consecutive losses to Memphis and Philadelphia. Houston (6-3) shot 47.7 percent and hit 19 3-pointers despite shooting just 32 percent from the field in the first quarter.
Houston rebounded from the poor start to force 19 turnovers for the game, including 10 by New York’s bench.
“Our defense has to lead to shooting (well),” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “You feel better about yourself, you feel better about your team, and things will come easier knowing that it’s not life or death because you’re getting stops on the other end.”
The Knicks (3-4) came into the game red hot, having won three consecutive games, including a 114-95 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. They were on fire early Wednesday, too, before Houston surged ahead.
New York led by as much as eight points in the first quarter, but a Harden buzzer-beating 3-pointer fell just as the first quarter expired, cutting New York’s lead to 27-24.
“We gave them confidence early,” Harden said. “I have to do a better job not turning the basketball over in the first quarter. We gave them easy points and kind of settled into the game, got stops, got shots, and it was uphill from there.”
After New York’s Tim Hardaway Jr. hit a 3-pointer to open the second quarter, Houston held the Knicks scoreless until the 6:32 mark of the second while opening a 40-30 advantage.
Houston hit 8 of 8 free throws and had two 3-pointers during a 16-point run, capped off by a Clint Capela steal-and-fastbreak dunk.
“We just got stops,” said Houston forward Ryan Anderson, who added 21 points. “We got stops and ran. That’s when we’re at our best, when we kick the ball up the court and have wide-open shooters. Obviously, James, the focus is so much on him, and when he gets the ball on the run, we’re going to have open looks.”
Houston eventually went into halftime with a 12-point lead and stretched it to as much as 29 late in the third quarter before New York cut it to as little as 18 in the fourth.
The Rockets placed all five starters in double figures.
Gordon scored 17 points, Ariza totaled 16 points, and Capela contributed 12 points and 13 rebounds.
“We can’t play soft on these guys,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said. “They can shoot the (stuffing) out of the ball. They all shoot step-back jumpers, and we weren’t into them enough, and we let them get going. They spread it around and were getting easy shots.”
Hardaway, who had 34 points in the win over Cleveland, finished with 23 points and seven rebounds to lead the Knicks. Porzingis, one of the stars of the young NBA season, was held to just 19 points and five rebounds in 28 minutes.
“He’s a great player, and we had a good game plan against him,” Anderson said. “Switching on his pick-and-rolls was good for us.”
The Knicks previously were undefeated with point guard Jarrett Jack in the lineup, but he stalled with just four points in 20 minutes.
NOTES: Houston G James Harden’s 31-point effort was his first 30-point performance of the year. He scored either 27 or 29 points in six of the team’s prior eight games this season. ... New York F Kristaps Porzingis had one of his worst games of the year: Prior to the loss, he had scored 30-plus in three straight games, including a career-high 38 in a 116-110 win over Denver on Monday. ... The teams observed a moment of silence before the national anthem to honor the victims of Tuesday’s terrorist attack in New York City. ... Houston C Clint Capela was the only player to reach double figures in rebounding.