NEW ORLEANS — During a weekend that is dominated by the NCAA Tournament, there was a professional basketball game being played in New Orleans on Sunday night. Two teams on the opposite ends of the playoff picture squared off in the Smoothie King Arena. The Houston Rockets came to town needing just one more win to clinch a playoff appearance for the seventh year in a row. The home town Pelicans, on the other hand, were just hoping to stop a skid of seven losses in their last eight games.
With Anthony Davis in the starting lineup, Pelicans fans were optimistic that their team might be able to slow down MVP Candidate James Harden and the Rockets. Houston started off the game hot by scoring ten of the game’s first twelve points. Frank Jackson cut it to 15-13 with 3:28 left in the first quarter, but then James Harden made the defining play of the game.
With 2:29 remaining in the first quarter, Elfrid Payton matched-up one-on-one on James Harden. Payton fiercely defended Harden for almost 20 seconds, not letting him drive, pass, or shoot. Despite Payton’s best efforts, Harden used his signature step-back move to create space and drain a 27-foot three-pointer to give the Rockets a 21-13 lead.
When asked about Harden’s play after the game, Chris Paul said, “We’ve gotten used to it. Elfrid is one of my closest friends who I know is an unbelievable competitor and a great defender. But there ain’t too much you can do about it.”
After Harden’s shot, the Rockets never looked back. Over the course of the last two minutes and twenty-nine seconds of the first quarter, the Rockets scored 12 of the games 18 points to take a 33-19 lead into the second half. The Rockets then pushed their lead out to 63-44 at the half and 87-69 heading into the fourth quarter. With a 26 point fourth quarter, the Rockets closed out their 47th win and clinched a spot in the playoffs to a tune of 113-90. Led by James Harden’s 28 points, the Rockets had six players score in double figures.
-The Pelicans (31-44) will host the Sacramento Kings (36-37) on Thursday at 7:00 pm.
-The Rockets (47-27) will return home to face the Denver Nuggets (49-23) on Thursday at 7:00 pm.