HOUSTON — Having run the Raptors ragged earlier this month in Toronto, the Rockets proved adept at doing so again, this time eschewing the double-digit deficit while playing at their preferred pace.
James Harden posted his third triple-double of the season and the Houston Rockets turned an early fourth-quarter rally into a 112-109 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Friday at Toyota Center.
Harden finished with 32 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds — his sixth game with at least 10 assists in his last 11 starts. He delivered Houston (36-37) a one-point lead entering the fourth quarter with a step-back jumper at the buzzer and helped engineer a 13-2 run that lifted the Rockets to a 92-80 lead that Toronto threatened but couldn’t surmount.
Houston ended a three-game losing streak and capped its first season series sweep over Toronto (48-23) since 2002-03 by setting a brisk pace in the first quarter. The Rockets shot 51.9 percent from the floor, including 12 of 22 on 3-pointers to outgun the deliberate Raptors.
“We have to impose our will on people,” Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “We have to force teams to play the style that we want to play. You can get those teams that aren’t used to playing at that speed, and you speed them up a little bit, it changes things for them.”
All five starters scored in double figures for Toronto but that unit shot a collective 38 percent. DeMar DeRozan produced 18 points before drawing two technical fouls and an ejection with 2:55 to play.
Jonas Valanciunas had 16 points and 18 rebounds while Luis Scola added 16 points and Norman Powell tallied 13 points. Kyle Lowry had 15 points and eight assists before being ejected with 25.6 seconds left.
The Raptors were undone by the Rockets’ 3-point shooting and by allowing 15 fast-break points. From start to finish they were outpaced.
“The Rockets played a really good game,” Scola said. “They really needed the game.”
Patrick Beverley scored 15 of his 17 points in the first half for the Rockets. Michael Beasley added 21 points and five boards off the bench.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey expressed concern over the Rockets’ ability to score in transition and right out of the gate Houston attacked.
“I thought it was the same game as we had in Toronto,” Casey said. “The 3-ball got involved and we had to take away one thing that Harden was doing. You can’t give him the points and the assists, and he had both.”
Less than three minutes into the game, the Rockets led 11-3. By the close of the first quarter, Houston was rolling behind Beasley, who scored 10 points in seven minutes. The Rockets built that lead to a dozen points in the second quarter before the well went dry.
Trailing 44-33, the Raptors reeled off a 15-0 blitz, hitting 5 of 6 shots from the field during that stretch, including two 3-pointers from Scola. The Rockets, meanwhile, stumbled in large part because of turnovers.
Houston had eight in the second quarter and three during the Raptors’ run to go along with 0-for-7 shooting from the floor during that Toronto run. The Raptors seized a 48-44 lead with its rally and kept picking apart the Houston defense through the remainder of the first half.
The Rockets didn’t work their way back into a tie until Harden converted a floater with 7:51 left in the third quarter that squared the score at 66. When Toronto reclaimed a 78-75 lead late in the period, Harden scored the final five points of the third to initiate a decisive momentum swing.
“That first quarter set the tone,” Harden said. “The guys were getting confident shots — layups and open 3s — so that momentum carried on for the entire game.”
NOTES: Raptors F/G Terrence Ross was inactive with a left thumb injury and sat out for the first time since being sidelined for six games in mid-November. Raptors G Kyle Lowry (right elbow) and F Patrick Patterson (left ankle) were hobbled yet played. … Rockets G James Harden and Raptors G DeMar DeRozan rank 1-2 in the NBA in free throws made. It’s easy to speculate that DeRozan picked up a trick or two training with Harden during the summer. Harden and DeRozan are both 26, with Harden from Los Angeles and DeRozan from Compton, Calif. … With C Jonas Valanciunas having returned Wednesday from a four-game injury hiatus (hand), expect the Raptors to cleave to their methodical tempo even more. Toronto entered the game ranked 29th in pace at 92.9 possessions per 48 minutes.