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Rockets' cold-shooting Harden beats Cavs at foul line

The SportsXchange

CLEVELAND -- Great players know how to close out games in the NBA.

It appears the Houston Rockets have one in James Harden, who scored 16 of his team-high 29 points in the fourth quarter of their 112-104 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday before an announced crowd of 16,866 at Quicken Loans Arena.

Harden, acquired in a trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder on Oct. 27, shot just 6 of 17 from the field, 3 of 9 from behind the arc.

The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder made a living going to the foul line. He made 14 of 15 from the foul line, which helped the Rockets (20-14) win their fourth game in a row.

"That's a good basketball team," Cavs coach Byron Scott said. "They have a guy who can close games out in James Harden.

"They put the ball in Harden's hands and he attacks. That's what great players do."

Harden came into the game fifth in the NBA in scoring at 26.3 per game.

"Sometimes guys want to have that spotlight and can't handle it," Scott said. "Obviously, he can handle it extremely well. He's thrived in that system. He was ready for the challenge."

Rockets coach Kevin McHale said he sees a similarity between Harden and Cavs guard Kyrie Irving.

"(Harden is) a great basketball player," he said. "He'd look good in any system. He has a great change of pace, like Kyrie. He's a very explosive player. Us getting up and down helps him."

Harden's sidekick, point guard Jeremy Lin, added 20 points and five assists. Forward Patrick Patterson came off the bench to score 15 points and grab six rebounds. Bruiser Greg Smith contributed 11 points and 11 rebounds.

The Cavs (8-26) dropped to 1-11 on the second night of back-to-back games.

Irving fired in a game-high 30 points, four rebounds and six assists. He made just 10 of 24 from the field. However, he matched his career high with eight turnovers.

When Scott walked into the locker room after the game, Irving walked up to him and took the blame for the loss.

"He said it was his fault," Scott said. "Great players try to put it all on their back."

Of course, the Cavs wouldn't even have been in the game had it not been for Irving, who played a season-high 41 minutes.

"The turnovers I don't usually make, they cost us the game," Irving said.

Forward Alonzo Gee, who drew the difficult assignment of defending Harden, had 18 points and six rebounds.

Tristan Thompson, who has emerged in the absence of center Anderson Varejao, had 14 points and a career-high 16 rebounds.

Center Tyler Zeller, who has been battling a slump, finished with 12 points, five rebounds and a career-high five assists.

The high-flying Rockets came into the game leading the league in scoring at 106.1. They burned the Cavs with their long-range shooting (12 of 34) and outscored the Cavs from the 3-point arc, 36-21.

The Rockets are now 14-2 vs. the Eastern Conference this year, 5-1 on the road.

"I have no idea why that is," Lin said. "I wish that was our Western Conference record. Maybe we should consider switching conferences."

The Rockets outscored the Cavs in the fourth quarter, 34-26.

Harden made just 2 of 11 from the field through three quarters. In the fourth, he made 4 of 6 shots, 2 of 3 from behind the arc, and 6 of 7 from the foul line.

"(Harden) caught fire at the right time for us," Lin said.

NOTES: Scott said he's hopeful Varejao (bruised right knee) and guard Daniel Gibson (concussion) can practice Tuesday and play on Wednesday. "We'll have to wait and see," Scott said. "That would be the plan." ... Scott earned his 400th coaching victory in Charlotte in Friday. He's the eighth active coach in the NBA to win 400 or more games. "The players in the locker room were yelling about it after the game," Scott said. "I honestly didn't know what they were talking about. Kyrie was yelling, 'That's 400.' I thought he was talking about dollars." ... The Rockets assigned forward Royce White to the NBA Development League, but he didn't report. He's kind of in limbo. When asked to clear up what's going on with White, McHale said, "No. I have no idea."
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