HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden and the Rockets were determined to make up for their most lopsided loss of the season when they got a second shot at Indiana on Friday night.
Not only did Houston do that, but it handed the Eastern Conference-leading Pacers their biggest defeat in the process.
Harden had 28 points and the Rockets used a huge third quarter to turn a close game into a blowout in a 112-86 win over the Pacers.
Harden scored 16 in Houston’s 38-point third quarter, which turned a three-point lead into a 29-point advantage. He also got into a dustup with Evan Turner that resulted in both players receiving technical fouls.
Dwight Howard and Harden went to the bench for the fourth period and watched their teammates wrap up Houston’s fourth consecutive win.
Indiana won by 33 the first time the teams met on Dec. 20 in Indianapolis.
“That’s all we talked about,” Howard said. “Every timeout and every possession. We wanted to get payback. It was good for us to come out (Friday) and stay on them for four quarters.”
David West had 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Pacers, losers of three straight for the first time this season.
“We’re just putting the emphasis on trying to get better,” Indiana center Roy Hibbert said. “Since the All-Star break we haven’t been playing the best basketball. We’ve been playing awful.”
But Pacers coach Frank Vogel isn’t too concerned about his team despite the skid.
“Every team I’ve ever been a part of has had a stretch like we’re in right now,” he said. “And since I’ve been here we’ve always worked our way out of it, so I’m sure we will. It stinks right now. It’s not fun right now, but we’ve got a good team and we’ll regroup.”
Howard finished with 15 points and seven rebounds. Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin added 11 points apiece for the Rockets.
The Pacers shot 6 of 18 in the third quarter with four turnovers and managed just 16 points – matching Harden’s total.
Paul George, who finished with 13 points, scored two quick buckets to start the second half and get the Pacers to 50-47. The Rockets scored the next nine points as part of a 16-2 run that pushed the lead to 66-49. Howard sailed high above the rim to grab a pass from Parsons, who threw it over a leaping Hibbert, and finished with a two-handed dunk.
Terrence Jones starting things off with a 3-pointer before Howard and Harden combined for the rest of the scoring in that run.
After that, Hibbert made the second of two free throws after he was fouled by Howard. Hibbert crashed to the ground after minimal contact from Howard, and the play initially was ruled a flagrant foul before it was overturned on review.
Houston scored seven straight points after that, thanks to a pair of turnovers by the Pacers.
Parsons made two free throws before Harden grabbed a steal from West and sank a 3-pointer. A turnover by Lance Stephenson seconds later led to a dunk by Harden that made it 73-50.
That’s when things got heated.
Turner was fouled by Parsons after he stole the ball from Patrick Beverley. Turner pushed Harden with one hand at the end of the play. Harden immediately got in his face, so close it appeared they might be touching, and the pair exchanged words. They were quickly pulled apart while players from both teams yelled at each other.
Harden said he got in Turner’s face because he went too far.
“I wasn’t going to let it slide,” he said. “I wasn’t having it.”
The fracas didn’t do anything to slow down Harden, and he scored five points in the 10-3 run by Houston that followed, extending the lead to 83-53.
Harden said it was important that the Rockets maintained their composure after the scuffle.
“We knew that the game was going to be officiated tight after that and we did a good job of getting stops and getting out and getting layups and 3s,” he said.
The Rockets led 88-59 entering the fourth.
Houston was up by 16 midway through the second quarter. The Pacers got going after that, outscoring the Rockets 19-10 the rest of the first half to cut the deficit to 50-43 at halftime. West had eight points during that stretch and George had a nifty reverse layup and a 3-pointer to help Indiana.
NOTES: Beverley, who broke his nose in the first half of Houston’s game against Orlando on Wednesday, wore a mask to protect the injury. … Former Rockets Hakeem Olajuwon and Tracy McGrady attended the game, flanking team owner Leslie Alexander in their courtside seats.