LOS ANGELES, (AFP) - Eric Gordon scored a team high 25 points and Chris Paul delivered 23 as the Houston Rockets, playing without leading scorer James Harden, used a balanced attack to beat the Golden State Warriors 118-112 on Saturday.
The Rockets won on the road without the reigning NBA most valuable player Harden, who has been bothered by a sore neck of late and then woke up Saturday morning with flu symptoms, the team said.
“You can come in here and win on a Monday night in February or a Tuesday night in November or December,” Paul said.
“But in the playoffs is when you have to beat a team four out of seven times. It’s great tonight that we won this but in two days you all will forget this. We all will.”
Harden, who was fined $25,000 earlier Saturday for criticizing the referees after a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, has missed just four games this season.
Saturday’s win showed the team’s depth without Harden, who has scored 30 or more points in 32 straight games for the second longest streak in league history.
The two-time defending NBA champion Warriors beat the Rockets in a seven-game series last May in the Western Conference finals, but this regular season the tables have turned. Houston has now won all three meetings with Golden State this season, including a 107-86 rout in November.
Paul converted two clutch free throws with 68 seconds left in the fourth and Gordon nailed four three pointers for the Rockets, who had to use different means to beat the Warriors.
When the Rockets blew a big lead and lost to the Lakers 111-106 on Thursday night, it left analysts wondering if the team was relying too much on Harden and whether or not his streak was becoming a distraction.
Kenneth Faried started in Harden’s place and delivered 20 points and 10 rebounds as five Rocket players scored in double figures.
P.J. Tucker tallied 18 points and 10 rebounds and Gerald Green scored 10 points as the Rockets ran off to a 20-point lead in the first half. Clint Capela grabbed 15 rebounds.
Paul dished out 11 of his season-high 17 assists in the first half to reach 9,000 for his career as the Rockets avoided a third straight road loss.
Kevin Durant scored 29 points and Curry added 25 with nine rebounds and seven assists for Golden State, who had their five-game home winning streak snapped.
Golden State’s Draymond Green exited the game in the fourth quarter with a sprained left ankle. He is expected to be evaluated by team doctors on Sunday.
“He’ll be back for the playoffs. That’s the only thing we worry about here, right?” Durant said.
Elsewhere, Buddy Hield scored 34 points to help the Sacramento Kings hold off Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder 119-116.
A night after making a game-winner at the buzzer in double overtime against Utah, the Thunder’s Paul George tried to repeat his heroics.
George’s potential game-tying shot at the buzzer rattled off the front of the rim to give the Kings the victory and the season series three games to one.
Westbrook finished with 41 points on 15-of-30 shooting with 10 rebounds. It was Westbrook’s third straight game scoring 40 or more points.
Also, the Portland Trail Blazers once again took advantage of Joel Embiid’s absence in a 130-115 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
Jusuf Nurkic scored 24 points and pulled down 10 rebounds and Damian Lillard added 17 points for the Trail Blazers, who solidified their fourth position in the Western Conference.
Cameroonian center Embiid missed his second straight game with a sore left knee, and the Sixers expect to be without him again when they travel to New Orleans to take on the Pelicans on Monday.
Also, Khris Middleton scored 28 points, Giannis Antetokounmpo had 27 points and 10 rebounds, and the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks pulled away for a 140-128 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
In New York, D’Angelo Russell tied a career high with 40 points and made some clutch plays late in the game as the Brooklyn Nets posted a 117-115 win over the Charlotte Hornets.