HOUSTON -- At first glance, it looks like James Harden needs a pick to bring out his thick beard. Harden has what he calls swag -- clothes from Adidas, the Houston Rockets or items from his personal wardrobe -- that he wears while walking into arenas singing whatever song is playing on that iPhone.
Looking past his exterior, Harden's game comes to mind. He scores nearly 30 points a night and makes people foul him on his physical drives, step back jumpers or the occasional Eurostep to the basket.
But when opponents begin to close down on him, Harden becomes a dangerous man.
The victory pushed Houston back to .500 again and has given the Rockets a three-game win streak heading into Tuesday’s game at Memphis.
This latest win wouldn’t be possible if not for Harden’s passing, the playmaking side of him, and his teammates closing the deal.
“He elevates everybody,” Corey Brewer said of Harden.
In a tense game, the Pacers led by as many as 13 points before the Rockets pushed back because of Harden's assists and his teammates finishing the job.
“That’s what I do, not just score the basketball, just getting my teammates shots,” Harden said. “They were confident and knocking them down, and that’s why we won the game.”
Late in regulation, with the Rockets down two, Harden drove to the basket and found it sealed off, so he kicked out a pass to Patrick Beverley along the perimeter. Beverley, playing well himself, found Trevor Ariza alone.
Ariza made a 3-pointer with 17.1 seconds left to tie the game at 93-93.
In the overtime, after the Pacers went on a 6-0 run to start things, the Rockets rallied. There was Harden sending a pass to Beverley, who made a 3 to bring the Rockets within two with 2:27 remaining. Harden later drove the lane and, as defenders collapsed on him, saw Dwight Howard with some space. Harden made behind the back pass to Howard, who scored on a layup to tie the game at 99-99 with 1:47 left.
Ariza hit a clutch 3 from another Harden pass that gave the Rockets a 102-101 advantage with 1:13 to go, and finally one more pass was left to seal the game.
After Monta Ellis hit a floater to push the Pacers ahead 103-102 with 59.4 seconds remaining, Harden struck again.
He drove to the lane and discovered nothing was clear at the rim. He sent a pass to Beverley, who reached to his right to secure it. Beverley found Brewer, who was posting up in the corner, just waiting for his turn to make a big play. Brewer’s 3 pushed the Rockets to a 105-103 lead. After few hairy moments, such as Ellis missing on a drive and Harden turning the ball over, the Rockets held on.
“I think everyone stepped up at some point in the game,” Harden said. “Trevor, Brew, Pat, Dwight were beasting in there. That’s the type of effort we need from everyone throughout every single game. Some games, other guys are going to struggle, so I’m just proud of the ways the guys stepped up.”
Harden’s night ended with a near triple-double. He had 21 points, nine assists, nine rebounds and, yes, five turnovers -- three coming on offensive fouls.
In overtime, he had four assists and took just one shot, a miss, and was plus-four in the box score.
The guys who produced around Harden were Ariza, who finished with 24 points, Howard had 21 points and 17 rebounds and there was Beverley with his 16 points, six assists and five rebounds.
Well-rounded efforts is what pushes this Rockets team most nights, and while it wasn’t their best played game of the season, it was one of those gritty wins they can use to move forward.
“We played together,” Ariza said. “We trusted each other defensively and offensively. When we don’t turn the ball over, we move the ball and we play together, we always have a good chance of winning.”
In the third quarter, the Rockets had a miserable stretch in which they missed 12 consecutive shots and finished the quarter going just 4-of-22 from the field. It was Harden who ended the scoring drought as the Rockets trailed 77-64 after three.
Everything turned in the fourth when Ariza's and Brewer’s defense on Paul George, who scored just two points in the final 17 minutes, forced others to make plays.
Harden made the plays for the Rockets, as evident by setting game highs in touches (101) and passes (68).
“He elevates everybody when he is the playmaker,” Brewer said. “When the ball pops and he’s moving it around, guys are getting wide-open shots. You’ve just got to make the shots.”