Nets move into 1st in East after beating Rockets, but lose Harden


Houston Rockets’ Danuel House Jr., left, defends against Brooklyn Nets’ James Harden during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 31, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

BROOKLYN — Kyrie Irving had 31 points and a season-high 12 assists, and the Brooklyn Nets overcame the loss of James Harden to beat the Houston Rockets 120-108 on Wednesday night and move into first place in the Eastern Conference.

Harden sat out the fourth quarter against his former team with right hamstring tightness, finishing with 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

The Nets put together the pivotal run without him, scoring 12 straight midway through the final period to turn a six-point deficit into a 107-101 lead, winning a game they trailed by 18 after less than five minutes.

Joe Harris added 28 points for the Nets, who didn’t even lead until the last half-minute of the third quarter, but emerged with their 19th win in 22 games, improving to 26-9 since acquiring Harden from Houston on Jan. 14.

At 33-15, they are half-game ahead of Philadelphia atop the East.

Kevin Porter Jr. scored 20 points for the Rockets, who got Christian Wood back after missing the previous two games because of injury and illness but were without John Wall because of a knee injury.

Danuel House Jr. added 18 points and Wood had 14.

Nets coach Steve Nash said before the game his team had been in the doldrums lately and its level of play had dropped, and nothing changed in the first few minutes.

The Rockets jumped to a 24-6 lead, with an 8-for-9 start that included makes on all five 3-point attempts. They barely cooled off the rest of the quarter, going 15 for 19 (79%) and taking a 42-29 lead.

Brooklyn finally sustained a good stretch with 12-0 run in the third that cut a 13-point deficit to 82-81 and Houston went into the fourth up by one.

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