George tops Harden as Thunder eke out win

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Paul George finished with a game-high 45 points plus 11 rebounds. Reuters

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Paul George outgunned James Harden in a matchup of MVP candidates, and the Oklahoma City Thunder erased a 26-point deficit to escape with a 117-112 win over the host Houston Rockets on Saturday.

George finished with a game-high 45 points plus 11 rebounds, torching the Houston defense with six 3-pointers plus 15-for-18 free throws.

George’s four free throws inside the final four seconds sealed the win after Russell Westbrook slipped through the defense to convert a layup and give the Thunder the lead for good at 113-112 with 26.9 seconds left.

Westbrook matched an NBA record set by Wilt Chamberlain with his ninth consecutive triple-double: 21 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists. The Thunder posted a 53-39 edge on the glass.

Harden totaled 42 points, his 29th consecutive game with at least 30, but he missed a contested 3-pointer after Westbrook pushed the Thunder ahead.

Chris Paul nearly posted a triple-double (18 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists) in his strongest performance since his return from a hamstring injury.

The Thunder matched the Rockets’ 42-point second quarter with a 42-point third period, keyed by 7-for-12 3-point shooting. After committing just two turnovers in the first half, the Rockets had six in the third quarter and collapsed with 1-for-9 shooting from behind the arc.

Still, the Rockets led 86-79 before Thunder guard Dennis Schroder closed the frame with 11 consecutive points to pull Oklahoma City even at 90-all entering the fourth. Less than three minutes into the final frame, the Thunder led 98-92, and the Rockets were left scrambling.

Two runs sparked the Rockets’ run to their 26-point lead in the first half.

Westbrook pulled the Thunder even with a midrange bank shot at the 1:47 mark of the first quarter before Houston bridged the opening two frames with an 11-0 burst that featured treys from Iman Shumpert, making his Rockets debut, Gerald Green, and Austin Rivers.

When Paul capped that rally with a midrange jumper, the Rockets led 36-25, and Oklahoma City struggled to build momentum against its lackadaisical ball security and the Rockets’ perimeter shooting.

Houston had pushed its lead to 58-42 despite a mini-surge from Westbrook before landing what appeared to be a devastating blow: a 10-0 run that included 3-pointers from Paul and Harden plus three Harden free throws after Paul converted a technical assessed against George for protesting a call.

The Rockets were 12 of 24 from deep late in the first half before missing five consecutive 3-pointers, leave the door ajar for a comeback.

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