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James Harden scores playoff career-high 45 to keep Houston alive

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry topples over Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza during the first half of Monday’s game.
Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry topples over Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza during the first half of Monday’s game.

HOUSTON – James Harden was not happy after a poor performance in Houston’s embarrassing loss to Golden State in Game 3.

Coach Kevin McHale told him the best thing to do was take that frustration out on the other team.

Harden did just that, scoring a playoff career-high 45 points as the Rockets led from start to finish to avoid elimination in the NBA Western Conference finals with a 128-115 victory over the Warriors on Monday night.

“James had a phenomenal game,” McHale said.

The Rockets had a big lead after tying a playoff record with 45 points in the first quarter before Stephen Curry landed on his head in a nasty spill midway through the second and missed about 12 minutes. Curry said he went through the concussion protocol before returning.

“It was all minor stuff compared to how it looked,” Curry said. “But I’ll get some good rest (Monday night) and be ready to go … since it happened to now, nothing has gotten worse.”

His first field goal after returning came on a 3-pointer that got Golden State within six points with less than 8 1/2 minutes remaining. But Harden, who had 17 points in the fourth quarter, scored the next seven as part of 10 straight by Houston to push the lead to 114-98.

“I always want to take it out on my opponent in a good way,” Harden said. “Just being aggressive, taking shots, getting to the basket, not really forcing anything and allowing the game to come to me.”

Klay Thompson had 24 points and Curry added 23 for Golden State, which moved a win away from its first trip to the NBA Finals since 1975 after routing Houston 115-80 on Saturday night to take a 3-0 lead.

But the Warriors couldn’t put the Rockets away and will try again at home in Game 5 on Wednesday night.

Houston bounced back from a 3-1 deficit to the Clippers in the conference semifinals. But they face a much bigger challenge in this series, as no team in NBA history has won a playoff series after trailing 3-0.

Dwight Howard had 14 points and 12 rebounds, and received a flagrant 1 foul early in the third quarter after throwing an elbow at Andrew Bogut’s head. He would be suspended by accumulation of flagrant foul points if the NBA upgrades it to a flagrant 2 after review.

“I hope not,” Howard said when asked about that possibility. “But there’s nothing I can do about it at this point. It’s never my intention to hurt anybody on the floor. My reaction was to try to get him off me, but I can’t react that way.”

The Warriors made 20 3-pointers and Houston had 17 to set an NBA record for most 3-pointers combined in a playoff game.

The Warriors used the Hack-A-Shaq technique on Josh Smith and got two 3-pointers from Curry to go on a 10-2 run to get within 10 with 4 minutes remaining. A dunk by Andre Iguodala got them within eight with about 2 minutes left, but Harden answered with a 3-pointer to shut the door.


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