Raptors handle Harden but can’t corral rest of Rockets in home loss

TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors restricted Houston star James Harden to 23 points but failed to corral the rest of the Rockets in a 119-109 loss Thursday.

Ben McLemore led Houston (14-7) with 28 points as the Rockets snapped a three-game road losing streak. Pascal Siakam had 24 for Toronto (15-6), which lost its second straight at home after winning its first nine of the season at Scotiabank Arena.

Harden scored 17 of his points in the second half. Russell Westbrook had 19 points on 7-of-27 shooting.

It was a sloppy game with 18 turnovers for Toronto and 23 for Houston.

Toronto kicked it up a gear in the third quarter, taking the lead for the first time after trailing by as many as 16. Still Houston, with Harden scoring 11 in the third, led 94-88 going into the final quarter.

Harden headed to the locker-room after taking a blow to the head at the end of the third as bodies clashed under the basket, but returned minutes later.

Toronto got to within one at 101-100 only to see Houston reel off a 12-3 run. Leading 115-109 with 1:14 remaining, Houston successfully challenged a foul call on a failed Toronto three-pointer to seal the deal.

Harden, who had combined for 110 points in his previous two games, was often little more than an interested observer early on in the face of Toronto’s extra attention. He attempted just three shots in a first half that saw seven other players outscore him.

The Beard came into the game leading the league at 39.5 points per game. Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo was second, averaging 31.0.

Toronto coach Nick Nurse hinted that the team had something up its sleeve against Harden and the high-scoring Rockets.

“We shall see what it feels like. We’ve got an idea of something we’re going to try,” he said before the game without elaborating. “We’ll see if we have enough guts to go with it.”

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni was unconcerned.

“We play the way we play. James, he’s seen it all,” he said

“We’ve got one of the best offensive scorers ever. We made that decision three years ago to put the ball in his hands and it’s worked,” he added.

On the first few possessions, Toronto’s OG Anunoby stuck to Harden like glue even as they stood well away from the play. Fred VanVleet came over to help when Harden had the ball.

Harden, content to draw the attention and try to feed teammates, did not attempt a shot for seven minutes 53 seconds before slicing in for a layup. Houston had turned the ball over six times midway through the first quarter.

Rapper Drake watched from his courtside perch as Houston recorded 10 assists — two by Harden — on 11 made field goals in the quarter.

Houston led 34-28 after the first quarter, with Harden contributing three points. Rockets forward Danuel House Jr., who had missed the two previous games due to illness, had 14 points in under six minutes off the bench in the quarter.

Siakam had 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting — and two fouls — in the quarter.

Harden’s second shot came 6:47 into the second quarter when he drove into the paint, got the bucket and the foul. He missed his third, with less than 30 seconds in the half.

The Rockets led by as many as 16 in the second quarter as Toronto shooters went cold before rallying to cut the deficit to eight at the break.

House, McLemore and P.J. Tucker accounted for 41 of Houston’s 63 first-half points. Harden had six and Westbrook nine (on 4-of-11 shooting).

Harden sank an off-balance three-pointer early in the third quarter and followed up with another long-distance shot.

An Anunoby dunk cut the lead to three at 74-71 and Kyle Lowry tied it up with a three-pointer as Toronto went on a 12-0 run. The Raptors took the lead for the first time at 76-75 on a pair of Lowry free throws.

McLemore reached a career high in the third quarter as he sank his seventh three-pointer.

Houston was coming off a double-overtime loss in San Antonio. The Spurs defeat was Houston’s fourth in its last six games, following an eight-game winning streak.

Toronto suffered its first home loss of the season Tuesday, a 121-110 overtime setback at the hands of the Miami Heat in Lowry’s return after an 11-game absence due to a broken thumb.

Toronto had won seven straight and 11 of its previous 13 prior to the Miami defeat.

Thursday’s game was played on Giants of Africa night, marking the legacy of Nelson Mandela who died on Dec. 5, 2013. Earlier in the day Raptors president Masai Ujuri took part in a related youth summit.

NOTES: The Raptors play in Philadelphia on Sunday before visiting Chicago on Monday. Then it’s back home to welcome Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers on Wednesday. Houston heads home to host Phoenix on Saturday.

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