Kurt Helin

Watch James Harden drop 35 on the Warriors

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James Harden was cooking.

He was draining threes, creating space with step backs, driving the lane, he was doing it all — Harden had 35 points on 26 shots to give the Rockets the win over Golden State. That included the game-winner with 2.7 seconds left that his teammates apparently didn’t want him to make.

The Warriors defense on Harden wasn’t sharp — 14 of his 26 shots were not contested, according to NBA.com, and he got to the left side of the court where he was hot at will — but he did what he does, hitting them and drawing contact when a guy was too close, getting to the line. It was a vintage Harden performance, and in this game he got some help from his teammates to earn the win.

Rockets bench reaction to Harden’s game winner was… underwhelming

Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard, left, battles Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green for a rebound during the second half in Game 3 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Thursday, April 21, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Dwight Howard
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James Harden hit the biggest shot of the Rockets’ season, driving the length of the court with 10.6 seconds left, spinning to the middle, pushing off on Andre Iguodala (no way that call is getting made, smart veteran play by Harden), and hitting the step-back 13 footer.

Ballgame. The Rocket bench erupted in… actually, it didn’t erupt.

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Well, Clint Capela was pumped.

But Dwight Howard, Corey Brewer, Terrence Jones and the rest have the same look the rest of us get on our face when we hear the announcement “due to mechanical issues we’re going to have to sit here on the tarmac for a while.” They look like they just heard the IRS is auditing them. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Yes, maybe there are legitimate reasons for this reaction — they knew he would score and were concerned about getting the next stop has been the company line — but on a team with well-documented chemistry issues, it makes you wonder.

Rockets finally bring effort, James Harden drops 35, Rockets beat Warriors 97-96

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This was almost going to be remembered as the Ian Clark game.

The lightly-used Golden State guard got a little run with Stephen Curry sidelined and put up nine points in the final quarter, including hitting a lay-up with 10.6 seconds left that capped a Warriors comeback and had them up one. It looked like the Warriors were going to steal one on the road where they were outplayed most of the night.

But James Harden had one last shot.

With no timeouts, he brought the ball up the court, drove left on Andre Iguodala, spun back to the middle while making the veteran (and never going to be called in this situation) push-off to create space, then nailed the game-winning step-back jumper. Ballgame. (Well, it was ballgame after Draymond Green dribbled the ball off his foot killing the Warriors’ chance at the last shot.)

Harden hit the biggest shot of the Rockets’ season, and the Rockets bench reaction was… underwhelming.

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Moving on….

The Houston Rockets brought by far their best effort of the series and beat the Warriors 97-96 to make this a 2-1 series with Game 4 in Houston Sunday. If I were a betting man, I’d put money on Curry being back for that one.

That said, the Rockets have avoided a sweep and, to hear them tell it after the game, given themselves a chance in this series.

They did it with a gritty, ugly, high effort game — everything that had been missing from their first two losses in the Bay Area. The Rockets forced 14 turnovers and turned that into 20 points. Harden was finding Howard inside early, plus getting his own buckets — Harden finished with 35 points, nine assists, and eight rebounds. Houston stretched that lead out to 17 points in the second quarter and seemed to be in command. But it was not going to be that easy, the Warriors chipped away at the lead — then Clark went off in the fourth.

The Rockets went cold down the stretch and made some head-scratching plays — Trevor Ariza made three bad passes — but they were able to get enough stops when they needed it most. Then they got the Harden shot and the win.

The Rockets got points from the front line, with Donatas Motiejunas scoring 14 and Howard finishing with 13. Michael Beasley added a scoring punch with a dozen points off the bench, including some key free throws late.

Klay Thompson had 17 points but needed 20 shots to get there for Golden State. Marreese Speights led the Warriors with 22 points — a sign they were off their game.

The question is, can the Rockets replicate this energy (and, frankly play better if Curry does return)? All season the Rockets have been the poster children of inconsistency this past season, good efforts were followed by games where they looked like the zombies in The Walking Dead. Howard said postgame the Rockets need to treat Game 4 like a Game 7. He’s right. Because if they are down 3-1 heading back to Oracle, they can book their plane flights to Mexico for summer vacation.

James Harden hits step-back game winner, Rockets upset Warriors

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Ian Clark hit the transition lay-up to put the Warriors up by one with 10.6 seconds left — yes, Ian Clark, he was fantastic, but that’s another story — and the Rockets were out of time outs.

But they had James Harden.

Harden brought the ball up the court, Andre Iguodala picked him up 30 feet out, Harden drove hard to his left, spun back to the middle and as he did push Iguodala to create space, then he stepped back and nailed the 13-foot jumper. Was that a foul by Harden? Technically, but there is zero chance any referee would call it in that situation, which is why you saw Michael Jordan (on Byron Russell most famously) and Kobe Bryant among others do the same thing. It’s a savvy veteran move by an elite scorer.

The Rockets were up 97-96 and won by that score when Draymond Green dribbled the ball off his foot out of bounds. The Warriors lead the series 2-1, and you can expect Stephen Curry to be back for Game 4, but the Rockets have opened the door in this series with their best game by far.

And Harden led the way.

Report: Hornets’ Nicolas Batum out for rest of first round due to foot strain

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 17: Nicolas Batum #5 of the Charlotte Hornets  looks on during Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Miami Heat during the 2016 NBA Playoffs  at American Airlines Arena on April 17, 2016 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Nicolas Batum sprained his ankle early in the fourth quarter of the Hornets’ Game 2 loss to the Heat Wednesday.

Now the starting small forward and key cog for Charlotte may be out for the rest of the first round (likely meaning the playoffs), reports Chris Haynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The injury looked nasty when it happened.

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After Wednesday’s game, Hornets coach Steve Clifford had said it’s very unlikely Batum plays in Game 3 Saturday, but the extended absence would be bad news for an already struggling Hornets team down 2-0 to the Heat in the series. He’s a key defender on the wing, plus his ball-handling skills allow Kemba Walker to work off the ball at times. Through two games of this series, the Hornets were +4.7 points per 100 possessions when he was on the court.  Charlotte needs to sweep the next two games at home to have a real chance, something that just got a lot more difficult.

Batum will be a free agent this summer and is a player the casual fan may not know but is highly coveted by GMs around the league — he can defend the wing, hit threes, and plays a high IQ game. Batum is going to get PAID and it will not be cheap for the Hornets to retain his services.