James Harden shook off a sluggish shooting start and took control late, leading the host Houston Rockets to a 122-119 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Thursday.
Harden finished with 33 points and eight assists, and he had a hand in the final 18 points for the Rockets, who won for the first time this season. His 3-pointer with 3:05 left gave Houston a 111-110 lead, and Harden added two free throws and an assist to Christian Wood to build the lead to five.
The Kings closed within 118-117 on a Tyrese Haliburton trey with 22.4 seconds left, but Harden converted his final four free-throw attempts to preserve the victory.
John Wall added 22 points and nine assists in his Rockets debut. Wood had 21 points and 12 rebounds, and DeMarcus Cousins, also making his Rockets’ debut, scored eight points. Wall and Cousins sat out two games due to COVID-19 contact tracing.
Harrison Barnes scored 24 points to pace the Kings, who got 22 points from De’Aaron Fox, 22 points and 13 rebounds from Richaun Holmes and 19 points and five 3-pointers from Buddy Hield.
The Rockets appeared to seize control out of halftime, extending a four-point lead to 71-62 via a trio of alley-oop dunks that featured assists from Wall and Harden. Wood and Danuel House Jr. each got a hand on a Harden pass, with Wood credited with the basket that pushed the lead to nine.
When Eric Gordon drilled a trey at the 3:28 mark of the third, Houston had its first double-digit lead at 87-77. But the Kings closed the period on a 9-0 spurt capped by a Fox 3-pointer, taking advantage of errant passes from Wall and Harden. Sacramento carried that momentum into the final period.
Neither team led by more than four points in a first half that featured 17 lead changes and eight ties.
Cousins, Gordon and Wall combined for 12 points in the opening quarter to help Houston offset an 0-for-4 start from Harden, who did contribute four assists. Harden recorded the assist on the first baskets of the season for both Wall, a breakaway dunk, and Cousins, a trey.
The Kings countered with balanced scoring, with four reaching double figures by halftime.
Hield, who tallied 13 points in the half, stroked back-to-back 3-pointers to build the Sacramento lead to 56-52 before Harden found his stride, making 4 of 5 shots down the stretch including a layup that gave Houston a 63-59 halftime lead.
The Rockets totaled 22 bench points in the first half and 35 in the game. The Kings’ reserves combined for 28 points on the night.