LOS ANGELES (AFP) - James Harden delivered a message to his detractors on Thursday, finishing with 45 points as the Houston Rockets recorded their eighth win in nine games with a 127-113 victory over the Boston Celtics.
The reigning NBA MVP Harden played through the pain of a bruised calf and scored 17 of his points in the opening quarter. He shot 11 of 26 overall from the floor, including draining nine of 18 three pointers.
Harden, who has faced criticism for his play in playoff elimination games, had a message for those who say he is not deserving of the league MVP award.
“I receive a lot of hate but that won’t stop me from going out there and killing every single night, being the dog that I am,” Harden said.
“You can name a few other people that can be in that conversation, but realistically, it is coming back.”
Harden has scored at least 30 points in eight straight games, the longest such streak since Russell Westbrook had eight straight 30-point games in November 2016.
And Harden has scored at least 35 points in six straight games, the longest streak since Carmelo Anthony had six straight in April 2013.
“You take those shots, you’re confident in those shots and those shots will go in,” Harden said. “Sometimes they might not go in, but mostly, they’ll go in. I just have to keep going, keep working.”
Clint Capela delivered 24 points and 18 rebounds and Eric Gordon scored 20 points for the Rockets, who improved to a season-high four games above .500. Houston finished 18 of 45 from beyond the arc.
Kyrie Irving had 23 points and 11 assists, and Marcus Morris added 19 points before being ejected midway through the fourth quarter.
Jaylen Brown had 18 points off the bench for Boston, who were outrebounded 54-38.
Houston ended the third quarter on a 14-4 run. Gerald Green nailed consecutive three pointers to build a 103-90 lead three minutes into the fourth and the Rockets never looked back.
Elsewhere, Bogdan Bogdanovic made a three-pointer at the buzzer and the Sacramento Kings rallied from a 15 point deficit in the final quarter to stun Los Angeles 117-116 in the Lakers’ first game this season without LeBron James.
Four time MVP James missed the contest with a groin injury, ending his consecutive games played streak at 156.
James was injured during the Lakers’ 127-101 victory over two-time defending NBA champion Golden State on Christmas when he moved awkwardly while reaching for a loose ball.
Bogdanovic finished with 23 points and De’Aaron Fox added 15 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds in the win.
Willie Cauley-Stein had 19 points and eight rebounds, while Iman Shumpert equalled a career high with a half dozen three pointers.
Kyle Kuzma had 34 points and Lonzo Ball added 20 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds for the Lakers, who struggled down the stretch and lost their fourth game in the last six.
In the late game, Damian Lillard nailed a go-ahead three-pointer with six seconds left in overtime and finished with 21 points as the Portland Trail Blazers squeaked past the Golden State Warriors 110-109.
Kevin Durant missed a 13-footer as the final buzzer sounded but scored 26 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.
Jusuf Nurkic finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds for the Blazers.
Durant hit a game tying three-pointer with 19 seconds left in regulation, but the mistake-prone Warriors couldn’t overcome a series of errors in losing a second straight contest at home.