James Harden has been the target of a lot of scorn lately, but he showed why the Los Angeles Clippers brought him on Friday in the NBA in-season tournament.
The Clippers snapped a streak of six straight losses — five of them with Harden — with a 106-100 win over the Houston Rockets in West Group B, grabbing the win with the most James Harden of all offensive outcomes, the combination of a 3-pointer and a foul.
No player in NBA history has more 4-point plays than Harden, and this one came up huge in a tie game with fewer than 10 seconds left. Harden made the subsequent free throw to trivialize the Rockets’ final possession.
Harden finished the game with 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting with nine rebounds and seven assists, easily his best game as a Clipper. That might have had something to do with Russell Westbrook coming off the bench on Friday and playing only 17 minutes.
Kawhi Leonard led all scorers with 26 points on 8-of-16 shooting with eight rebounds, five steals and two assists.
It hasn’t been a linear improvement, but the Clippers have been getting better as Harden gets more and more experience on the team, as we saw in their close loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday.
Speaking of the Nuggets, a massively consequential game was the New Orleans’ Pelicans 115-110 upset of the defending champions, which puts New Orleans in plum position in West Group B. Now 2-1, the Pelicans can win their group by beating the Clippers in their final game.
It was a valuable, but it wasn’t a stress-free win, as the Pelicans nearly blew a 20-point second-half lead as Nikola Jokić got going. The Nuggets had the lead cut to one point with 3 1/2 minutes left, but Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson combined to score on four straight possessions to put the game out of reach.
Still without Jamal Murray, Jokić continued to carry the load with a 26-point, 18-assist, 16-rebound triple-double.
Beyond that, Friday saw the eliminations of the Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards and San Antonio Spurs, who are all 0-3 and have been collectively outscored by 109 points. The Memphis Grizzlies, also 0-3, were already eliminated.
The Sacramento Kings were responsible for the Spurs’ elimination, riding 43 points from De’Aaron Fox to a 129-120 win. Sacramento started slow, falling behind 23-5 early in the game, but the Kings didn’t stay down for long as they finished the first quarter on a 24-8 run.
The game remained close in the second and third quarters, with the teams exchanging leads and the Kings ahead by 16 at one point. Victor Wembanyama contributed 27 points for the Spurs and added more highlights along the way via some alley-oops.
Zach Collins recorded 28 points, the ninth straight game he’s hit double digits.
The fourth quarter, however, was where the game turned. Fox scored 13 of his 43 points and Domantas Sabonis netted 10 of his 27 points and finished with 14 rebounds to help guide the Kings to the win.
The victory was Sacramento’s fifth in a row overall and puts the Kings in a tie with the Minnesota Timberwolves (2-0) atop Group C, with the two teams facing off next Friday. The Kings will then finish their group play schedule four days later against the Golden State Warriors.
Table of Contents
Friday’s NBA in-season tournament scores
NBA in-season tournament standings
In the in-season tournament, every team will face the other four teams in its randomly selected group once. The top team in each group and a wild cards in each conference will advance to a single-elimination knockout stage, with quarterfinals played on Dec. 4 and 5 in team arenas and the final two rounds played in Las Vegas on Dec. 7 and 9.
All games, save for the championship game, will count toward regular-season records. Tiebreakers are, in order: head-to-head record, point differential, total points scored, 2022-23 regular-season record and a random drawing.
East Group A
1. Indiana Pacers: 2-0, +11
2. Philadelphia 76ers: 2-1, +12
3. Cleveland Cavaliers: 1-1, +3
4. Atlanta Hawks: 1-1, -4
5. Detroit Pistons: 0-3, -22 (eliminated)
East Group B
1. Milwaukee Bucks: 2-0, +36
2. Miami Heat: 2-0, +13
3. New York Knicks: 1-1, +16
4. Charlotte Hornets: 1-2, -30
5. Washington Wizards: 0-3, -35 (eliminated)
East Group C
1. Boston Celtics: 2-0, +17
2. Brooklyn Nets: 2-1, +8
3. Orlando Magic: 1-1, -14
4. Toronto Raptors: 0-1, -3
5. Chicago Bulls: 0-2, -8
West Group A
1. Los Angeles Lakers: 3-0, +42
2. Utah Jazz: 2-1, +19
3. Phoenix Suns: 1-1, 0
4. Portland Trail Blazers: 1-2, -26
5. Memphis Grizzlies: 0-3, -35 (eliminated)
West Group B
1. New Orleans Pelicans: 1-1, +23
2. Denver Nuggets: 2-1, +9
3. Houston Rockets: 1-1, -3
4. Dallas Mavericks: 1-2, -14
5. Los Angeles Clippers: 1-2, -15
West Group C
1. Sacramento Kings: 2-0, +16
2. Minnesota Timberwolves: 2-0, +10
3. Golden State Warriors: 1-1, -1
4. Oklahoma City Thunder: 1-2, +27
5. San Antonio Spurs: 0-3, -52 (eliminated)
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