Los Angeles, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - James Harden posted 34 points, seven rebounds and seven assists and the Houston Rockets held off the Los Angeles Clippers 100-98 on Sunday, picking up a crucial game in the standings in the process.
Harden shot 17-for-18 from the foul line, with his lone miss coming in the closing seconds. He split a pair with 12 seconds left that could have made it a three-point game, but Chris Paul hit nothing but air with a baseline jumper at the horn.
"Trevor (Ariza) contested Chris' shot and we were lucky he missed," said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. "It's a big win for us."
Terrence Jones gave 16 points and 12 rebounds, and Ariza scored 19 for the Rockets, who moved 2 1/2 games ahead of the Clippers for fourth in the Western Conference.
Paul finished with 23 points, DeAndre Jordan grabbed 20 rebounds and Blake Griffin flirted with a triple-double in his return to the court, finishing with 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.
Griffin had missed the previous 15 games after undergoing surgery to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.
"I didn't think I played well," Griffin said. "Too many turnovers. I've got to get better. My elbow was a little sore at the end, but we were expecting that."
The Rockets missed all nine of their 3-point tries in the first quarter, while the Clippers shot 6-of-9 from distance. Matt Barnes had four of the six treys, J.J. Redick added the other two, and the duo netted 26 of LA's 30 first- quarter points.
"We scored well in the first quarter," said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. "In the second, we got in a funk. We need to play harder and be more aggressive."
Houston trailed by eight after one but got back in the game with its defense, forcing six turnovers that led to nine points in the second. Harden scored 18 points in the period and Houston made five 3s and all 11 free throws to flip the script and take a 58-50 lead into halftime.
The lead grew to 15 following Donatas Motiejunas' layup five minutes into the third, but the Clippers gradually chipped away and got back in the game with a strong fourth. Austin Rivers and Nate Robinson combined for nine straight points, with Robinson's 3 making it 86-83 with 8:42 left. Paul hit from deep to tie it at 96 with just over three minutes to play.
Jones' 3 at the other end restored Houston's lead, and it held on from there, though Griffin had a chance to put the Clippers back in front in the closing seconds. After intercepting an entry pass from Ariza, Griffin raced down the floor, barreled into Ariza and was called for a charge.
The Clippers went 9-6 without Griffin ... Barnes scored 19 points and Redick had 15 for LA ... Houston scored 27 points off 20 LA turnovers.