HOUSTON -- Even for a team ranked second in the NBA in pace, the Houston Rockets exceeded all expectations against the New York Knicks on Friday night.
Keyed by the unconscious shooting of Chandler Parsons in the first quarter, the free-throw marksmanship of James Harden in the second, and another knockout rally in the third period, the Rockets shot the lights out at Toyota Center and deconstructed the Knicks 131-103.
The Rockets (6-7), who entered play second to the Bucks averaging 94.5 possessions per 48 minutes, set a breakneck pace in the first quarter and never relented, parlaying Parsons' 18-point period into momentum that never waned. Harden hit all nine of his free throws in the second and combined with Parsons to produce 64 points on 20-for-32 shooting.
Before suffering their first loss at Memphis on Nov. 16, the Knicks (8-3) paced the NBA in defensive rating. Their steady decline to ninth by Friday night was on display as the Rockets shot 51.7 percent from the floor and 56.0 from 3-point range. Houston also hit 25 of 28 free throws.
The Knicks allowed a season high in points for a second consecutive game following their 114-111 loss in Dallas on Wednesday night. Forward Carmelo Anthony paced the Knicks with 37 points and seven 3-pointers, but he committed seven turnovers and couldn't stem the Rockets' tide following a 12-0 run in the second and 13-0 in the third.
The first quarter featured Parsons and Anthony doing their best to replay the duel Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins famously waged in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals. Parsons scored 18 points on 8-for-8 shooting in the opening period, scoring on a wild array of shots from behind the arc, on driving layups, and from the baseline.
Anthony, a far more reputed scorer, was a willing participant in the score fest, drilling three consecutive 3-pointers during one stretch to keep the Knicks in contention. He, too, showcases his versatility by turning a post drive into a basket before nailing his fourth trey of the period to match Parsons' 18 points on a splendid 7-for-10 performance.
But what the Knicks lacked in the first half was a scorer to complement Anthony. Harden filled that bill for the Rockets, producing 16 second-quarter points on just six shots from the floor. While terrorizing the Knicks' halfcourt defense with audacious drives to the rim, Harden was repeatedly fouled and cashed in at the charity stripe.
Harden closed the half 15 for 15 at the line, scoring 25 points on a remarkably scant eight field goal attempts. Two of his four baskets were 3-pointers, including a step-back trey that capped a 12-0 run which bumped the Rockets' lead to 67-53 with 1:40 remaining in the half.
En route to their 72-57 halftime lead, the Rockets were led by Parsons (26 points) and Harden (25). Anthony paced the Knicks with 24 but picked up his third foul pushing off against Marcus Morris with 3:02 left.
Notes: Even without six-time All-Star forward Amare Stoudemire (left knee), the Knicks entered play on Friday night leading the NBA in offensive rating at 112.7 points per 100 possessions. Comparatively, the Rockets were ranked 19th at 102.8 points per 100 possessions. ... Parsons recorded a double-double in four of his prior five games, averaging 17.0 points and 9.0 rebounds during that stretch. He came into the season with just two career double-doubles. ... The cumulative total of career games played (1,310) for the five most experienced Rockets -- Carlos Delfino, Daequan Cook, Harden, Toney Douglas and Omer Asik -- is less than that of Knicks guard Jason Kidd (1,325 games).