HOUSTON -- The newly constructed Houston Rockets showed Wednesday that they could deal with an unexpected reversal of fortunes.
Two nights earlier, the Rockets erased a 17-point deficit, blew past the Heat, and then watched as LeBron James led Miami to victory late. On Wednesday night, the Rockets fashioned a seemingly insurmountable lead, only for the New Orleans Hornets to methodically chip away.
After James Harden dragged his teammates to the shadow of the finish line with splendid scoring and playmaking, Chandler Parsons closed out the Rockets' 100-96 win at Toyota Center with key plays on both ends.
With Houston clinging to a 98-96 lead, Parsons beat the shot clock to make a difficult step-back 20-footer with 65 seconds remaining. He added a critical defensive rebound on the Hornets' ensuing possession, and with New Orleans in desperate need of a 3-pointer, Parsons closed out on Al-Farouq Aminu to force a miss with 4.9 seconds left.
The Rockets led 64-45 at halftime before being pushed to the finish.
"We've got to have the mentality to when we're up 10, 12 (points), we've got to extend that to 16 and to 18, and we can't let up," Parsons said. "I feel like we almost don't have that same kind of energy where we did when we're making the run. We've got to build on just continuing that.
"Obviously it was frustrating in the first place to be in that situation. We showed some resiliency. We never lost our composure. We kept playing hard, we kept running our offense and getting the best shot available."
Harden led all scorers with 30 points and paced the Rockets (4-4) with four assists. Omer Asik scored 15 points and pulled down 12 rebounds for Houston, and Parsons added 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Hornets point guard Greivis Vasquez was stellar throughout, pairing a career-high 24 points with a game-high nine assists. Ryan Anderson added 20 points and 12 rebounds off the bench for New Orleans (3-3).
Midway through the third quarter, the Rockets appeared in control, with Harden and Asik scoring in succession to increase Houston's lead to 72-51. However, Vasquez inspired an 11-0 New Orleans run that turned a blowout into a nail-bitter. Once engaged a second time, the Hornets would not relent, closing the third quarter on a 10-5 spurt before using bench contributions from Brian Roberts and Anderson to pull within 89-85 with just under nine minutes to play.
Harden buried a pull-up jumper before assisting Parsons for a 3-pointer to give Houston a 98-88 lead with 3:26 remaining. Vasquez drilled a pair of 3-pointers around a stick-back layup from Anderson, forcing the Rockets to battle down the stretch for the win.
"I'm sure the guys were ready to turn it around, but at the halftime session, I have to do something to remind them of who we are," Hornets coach Monty Williams said. "We're out there playing in the second quarter like we're the Globetrotters or something. This team was trying to kick our butt, and we have to have a mindset of playing a tough, nasty style of basketball, and I just didn't see that in the second quarter."
Said Vasquez: "We have to come out with energy and match up to their intensity. Our energy wasn't there in the second quarter. We tried to come back and fought back, but it was too late."
Houston forward Marcus Morris, a D-League castoff last season as a rookie, continued his early-season emergence with a torrid second quarter. He drilled consecutive jumpers to swipe the lead from the Hornets. Morris' 3-pointer with 8:45 left in the half keyed an 11-2 run that gave Houston a 38-31 lead. Morris finished with 13 points off the bench.
The Rockets outscored the Hornets 39-18 in the second period, a season high in Houston for points in a quarter.
"I think the second quarter is about as good as we can play," Rockets interim coach Kelvin Sampson said. "Our second-unit energy, the ball movement, I thought was outstanding."
NOTES: Entering the game, the winning team overcame a deficit of at least 13 points in five of the last six meetings between Houston and New Orleans. The Hornets trailed by 21 points midway through the third quarter before closing to within 98-96 with 1:49 remaining on Wednesday night. ... The Rockets finished 10-for-29 from behind the 3-point arc against the Hornets after shooting 12-for-34 from deep against Miami on Monday night. ... Rivers posted the first double-digit scoring game of his career, totaling 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting, 2-of-4 on 3-pointers.