By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
DENVER (AP) — James Harden scored 40 points and finished with a triple-double as the Houston Rockets snapped the Denver Nuggets’ four-game winning streak with a 109-105 victory Saturday night.
Harden, who shook off a hard fall in the third quarter, had 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
With his team trailing 107-105, Nuggets guard Will Barton missed a 3-pointer and a layup in the final 30 seconds.
After Barton’s errant 3-point attempt, Harden missed at the other end and Nikola Jokic corralled the rebound. But then Barton missed a layup that would have tied it with about five seconds left, and Harden drew a foul. He sank both free throws to reach 40 points for the second time in two nights.
The Nuggets missed five three throws late in the game, including two by Barton.
Nene, who played the first decade of his 14-year NBA career in Denver, had 14 points and seven rebounds for the Rockets.
Gary Harris led Denver with 17 points.
Harden scored 18 points in the third quarter, including Houston’s final 16 of the period. He capped the run with a buzzer-beating 3 that gave the Rockets an 80-74 lead.
It wasn’t all rosy for Harden, however. He hit the floor hard on his right elbow after fouling Mason Plumlee in the final minute of the third quarter. Harden sat on the floor for about 30 seconds surrounded by his concerned teammates before getting up and shaking it off.
Before finding their touch late, the Rockets misfired from long range for much of the night.
They made just one of 15 shots from beyond the arc before Ryan Anderson swished one to break a 61-all tie late in the third quarter.
Nobody other than Harden scored again for the Rockets until Eric Gordon banked in a jumper a minute into the fourth.
The Nuggets built a 56-51 halftime lead behind 13 points from Juancho Hernangomez, who replaced Danilo Gallinari (left knee) in the starting lineup. Hernangomez didn’t do much after the break, though.
Also out for Denver were Wilson Chandler (groin) and Darrell Arthur (knees).
“We’re undermanned once again, but a great opportunity for all those other guys,” coach Michael Malone said before tip-off. “A great opportunity for guys like Juancho and Jamal (Murray) to go out there and compete for 48 and see where we are.”
At the end of the night, the Nuggets found themselves just 1 1/2 games in front of Portland for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference. The Trail Blazers won in Atlanta, 113-97.