BOSTON — The Boston Celtics managed to shut down the NBA’s leading scorer for most of the second half and overtime.
Just one problem.
“We had a lot of attention on James Harden.” Celtics guard Jaylen Brown said, “and we forgot about the other MVP over there.”
Russell Westbrook scored 41 points and Harden had 21, including a pair of free throws with 25 seconds left in overtime to give the Houston Rockets a 111-110 victory on Saturday night.
Boston rallied from a four-point deficit in the final 20 seconds of regulation and sent the game to overtime on Brown’s 3-pointer at the buzzer after an intentionally missed free throw. The Celtics scored the first basket of the extra period and led 110-109 but did not score in the final 2:49 of the game, missing their last six shots.
Harden, who averages almost 35 points, was held to nine points on 3-for-12 shooting over the final 29 minutes, going scoreless for all of the fourth quarter. Westbrook also had eight rebounds and five assists, scoring 18 in the second half and three more in overtime.
“This is his first year as a Rocket. It’s going to take some time and he’s finally there,” Harden said. “You can have the confidence but not the ability. But he has both and that’s what makes him so special.”
Robert Covington added 16 points and 16 rebounds for the Rockets, who have won six straight and 10 of their last 12 while beating Boston five times in a row.
Jayson Tatum had 32 points and 13 rebounds, Marcus Smart scored 26 points and Brown had 22 for the Celtics. Daniel Theis had 15 rebounds for Boston, the last in the final seconds of overtime to set up a short baseline jumper that was released after the buzzer before harmlessly swishing through the net.
The Celtics had won 14 of their previous 17 games and could have moved into a tie with Toronto atop the Atlantic Division with a win.
“I thought the right team won,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “I thought they were better than us — not by much, but at least by one.”
Boston led by as many as 17 in the first half, but the Rockets scored 13 straight points near the beginning of the second to take their first lead of the game 66-64. Boston missed nine straight shots into the fourth quarter and still trailed 102-98 after Westbrook hit one of two free throws with 19 seconds left.
Smart leaned in for a 3-pointer to make it a one-point game, but Westbrook got away on the fast break and Theis reached out to grab him; they had to go to a replay to determine that it wasn’t a clear path foul. The Houston guard hit both free throws to make it 104-101 with 8.1 seconds left in regulation.
The Rockets sent Tatum to the line, where he missed the first free throw. He intentionally banged the second off the front of the rim, Smart deflected the ball and Brown grabbed it at the top of the key before hitting the tying 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the game to overtime, tied 104-all.
“It’s something we practice, if we need to miss a free throw, try to make a play,” Tatum said. “JB was in the right spot at the right time and he knocked down a big shot to give us a chance.”
Rockets: Westbrook scored at least 20 points for the 30th straight game, joining Harden, who had a 34-game streak of 20+ points this season. According to ESPN, they are the first teammates to have 20-points in 30 or more games in a row since Jerry West and Elgin Baylor in 1961-62.
Celtics: Paul Pierce and Kendrick Perkins, members of the 2008 NBA champions, watched the game from courtside. Pierce wore his championship ring. … Kemba Walker missed his fifth straight game with a sore left knee.
The teams combined to shoot 97 times from 3-point range. The Rockets were 15 for 55.
“You have to find other ways to win, if you want to be a contender,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “And we found it tonight.”
Harden stayed on the floor for a few minutes after landing badly when he missed a layup at the end of the first half. He walked off holding his left wrist, but returned for the start of the second.
In the third quarter, Westbrook stayed down after he appeared to hit his head against Theis’ leg. The Rockets guard remained in the game.
Rockets: At Knicks on Tuesday.
Celtics: Host Nets on Tuesday.