Houston Rockets 113, Memphis Grizzlies 101: No Paul, no Gordon, no problem

The Memphis Grizzlies (18-18) brought plenty of grit, but James Harden and the Rockets (21-15) were the ones to ultimately grind their way to a 113-101 New Year’s Eve victory. Harden posted another blockbuster performance, finishing with 43 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists, giving the Rockets their tenth win in their last 11 games.

“It’s crazy man,” said Chris Paul. “I always talk to the guys on the team about (James) because they weren’t here last year, so this is their first time getting a chance to see it night in and night out. What he’s doing is unreal.”

In the Paul era, this is only the third outing where Harden has played without either Paul or Eric Gordon by his side, the latter being sidelined due to a knee contusion. The Rockets are just 1-1 in such games, each of them coming from last season.

Both teams looked stuck in the mud for the first four minutes or so of the game, with the Rockets trailing 6-2 at one point, prompting coach Mike D’Antoni to insert Gerald Green for some much-needed energy off the bench. Just 15 seconds after entering the game, Green drilled a three-pointer off a pass from Harden.

As a team, the Rockets shot a blistering 18-of-41 from the three-point line, good enough for 43.9 percent. Green finished the game with 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting from behind the arc.

After a quiet first quarter by his usual standards (8 points, 6 assists), Harden checked back into the game a bit earlier than normal at the 9:17 mark of the second quarter and proceeded to take over. Harden finished the half with 28 points, giving the Rockets a 61-38 lead at the break, and a pair of unbelievable step-back three-pointers in the final 31 seconds of first half action.

The Rockets were ahead by double figures much of the night, with the lead ballooning back to 23 after a pair of Harden free throws halfway through the third quarter.

However, not long after Harden sat down for his usual rest headed into the final stretch of action, the Grizzlies were able to close out the the quarter on a 14-3 run. Marc Gasol spearheaded the Memphis charge during that stretch with five points, bringing his team within 86-73 headed into the fourth quarter.

Gasol and the Grizzlies’ run forced coach D’Antoni to put Harden back on the court with under a minute remaining in the third. While Houston led for most of the fourth quarter thanks to Harden’s inexplicable ability to power through double and triple-teams on zero rest, Memphis had no plans of going away quietly.

The Grizzlies were able to cut the lead to single digits with just over 90 seconds of clock remaining. A made free throw from P.J. Tucker followed by a timely acrobat layup by newly acquired Austin Rivers made it 113-101 and sealed the game for the Rockets with about 35 seconds left to play.

Monday night’s win has the Rockets sitting tied with the LA Clippers for fourth in the Western Conference. Houston’s next game will be Thursday night against the Golden State Warriors (25-13) in Oakland at 9:30 p.m. central.

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