Houston guard James Harden scored 45 points, including all nine for his team in overtime as the Rockets followed the abrupt sacking of coach Kevin McHale with a 108-103 NBA victory over Portland on Wednesday.
Harden, who scored 26 points in the fourth quarter, added 11 assists for the Rockets, who snapped a four-game losing streak hours after McHale was sent packing.
Houston players acknowledged they felt the burden of the decision to dismiss McHale.
“We are responsible,” said swingman Corey Brewer. “Coach can’t make us play hard. That’s up to us.
“It’s got to be a wakeup call. We’ve got to get better.”
With interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff at the helm for the first time, the Rockets delivered a gritty performance.
Brewer drained a three-pointer with less than a second remaining in regulation to send the game to overtime with the score knotted at 99-99.
Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum had hit a three-pointer with 4:54 left in regulation after two free throws by Damian Lillard halted an 8-0 Rockets run that brought Houston within 83-81.
Harden hit a three-pointer with 38 seconds left in regulation, and after Portland forward Al-Farouq Aminu made two free throws with 6.6 seconds left to stretch the lead to three, Brewer pulled the Rockets level.
Rockets centre Dwight Howard grabbed 19 rebounds and forward Trevor Ariza added 18 points and eight rebounds as Houston handed Portland a seventh straight defeat.
Bickerstaff, promoted to coach for the rest of the season from his position as an assistant to McHale, said his goal was to “get back to who we were when we had our most success.”
The Rockets reached the Western Conference final last season, and while sacking McHale after four straight defeats seemed like panic to some in the league, general manager Daryl Morey said the fierce competition in the West forced his hand.
“The team was not responding to Kevin,” Morey said. “There is no time in the West.”
PARKER SHINES IN SPURS WIN
The rugged conference is led by reigning NBA champions Golden State, who took their season opening winning streak to 12 games on Tuesday.
The San Antonio Spurs are slotted comfortably into second place, taking their record to 9-2 with a 109-98 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday.
French point guard Tony Parker scored a season-high 25 points and forward Kawhi Leonard added 20 for the Spurs, who are a perfect 5-0 at home.
Backup guard Patty Mills of Australia scored 17 points, veteran Tim Duncan added 12 points and 11 rebounds and forward LaMarcus Aldridge scored 11 points with 12 rebounds – the fourth straight game that the Spurs had at least five players score in double figures.
THUNDER END SKID
The Oklahoma City Thunder gained a needed win, downing the injury ravaged New Orleans Pelicans 110-103 to end a two-game slide.
Russell Westbrook poured in 43 points, handed out eight assists and pulled down nine rebounds for the Thunder, who were without former NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant for a fourth straight game.
“We got a win,” Westbrook said. “We worked hard this week and the last few days to get a win, so I am happy about that.”
Durant, recovering from a strained left hamstring, took part in full-court shooting drills on Wednesday morning.
“He is doing more than he was a week ago,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, adding that he didn’t know how close Durant was to returning.
But the Pelicans’ injury woes were even worse. With star forward Anthony Davis out with a left shoulder injury, the Pelicans had only nine players in uniform.