JAMES Harden scored 38 points and the Houston Rockets held off the Golden State Warriors 112-108 on Monday to knot their NBA playoff series at two games apiece.
The reigning champion Warriors head home for game five of the best-of-seven Western Conference clash on Wednesday with a lot of work to do in a series in which each game has been decided by six or fewer points.
It was a different story on Monday in the East, as Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 17 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter to propel the Bucks to a 113-101 victory over the Celtics in Boston and a commanding 3-1 series lead.
Milwaukee will try to punch their ticket to the Eastern Conference finals when they host game five on Wednesday.
In Houston, reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Harden made sure the Rockets didn’t fall into a similar hole.
Harden scored 13 of his 18 first-half points in the second quarter and added another 13 in the third, when the Rockets stretched their lead to as many as 17.
The Warriors responded with an 11-0 scoring run in the third period, and put together a 7-0 run late in the fourth, when they pulled within 108-110 on a Stephen Curry three-pointer with 19.3 seconds left.
Down 111-108 with 11.5 seconds remaining, Golden State saw Kevin Durant and Curry miss three-point attempts.
“Our motto was keep fighting,” said Harden, who also pulled down 10 rebounds. “We know how tough they are. We’ve got to keep fighting on both ends of the floor, stay in attack mode, be aggressive.”
Eric Gordon added 20 points for the Rockets and PJ Tucker added 17 and 10 rebounds.
Durant paced the Warriors with 34 points. Curry added 30 points and Draymond Green posted a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds.
But in another bruising encounter between the two teams, Golden State made just eight of 33 three-point attempts. Curry and Klay Thompson combined to shoot just two-of-10 from three-point range.
The Rockets, meanwhile, hit 17 of 50 from beyond the arc.
“I think both teams are doing what they’re doing and nothing’s really happened yet,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s 2-2. Each team has won two home games – that’s kind of how the playoffs go . . . We’ve just got to be a little better.”
Celtics face elimination
The Celtics need to be a lot better to avoid elimination against the Bucks.
“It’s win or go home,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “It takes a lot of mental fortitude. It takes a lot of mental toughness. It reveals a lot. I’m looking forward to that challenge.”
Once again in their series, the third quarter proved pivotal, with the Bucks outscoring the Celtics 33-23 to turn a 49-47 halftime deficit to an 80-72 lead.
The turnaround came with Antetokounmpo on the bench with his fourth foul for the last eight minutes of the quarter.
During that span, the Bucks outscored the Celtics 21-13 and when Antetokounmpo returned in the fourth, the Bucks only pressed the action more.
Milwaukee took their biggest lead of the night 91-79 on a driving Eric Bledsoe’s finger-roll finish with 9:05 left to play.
Boston closed within five on Al Horford’s driving layup less than two minutes later, but they would get no closer.
Antetokounmpo, coming off a 32-point game on Friday, connected on 15 of 22 shots from the field and pulled down 16 rebounds.
Bledsoe and Khris Middleton added 13 points apiece and George Hill added 15 points off the bench.
“It’s amazing,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think the whole group, the whole team played hard. Everybody was ready, everybody stepped up.
“This is what [separates] an average team from a great team,” he added, “that if you have the opportunity to be up two games, we’re all ready.”
Kyrie Irving led the Celtics with 23 points and 10 assists, but made just seven of 22 shots from the field.
Overall, the Celtics made just 37.8 percent of their shots and heard boos from the home field as they left the court.