Harden, who sat out the entire fourth quarter due his team’s massive lead, scored 43 points to go along with 12 assists and 10 rebounds in the Rockets’ 141-113 win over the Cavs. The loss is Cleveland’s 12th in a row and the second on their current six-game road trip.
Harden, perhaps the leading candidate for MVP at this point in the season, was dominant in a way he wasn’t when the Cavs and Rockets played in Cleveland back in November. In that game, one of Cleveland’s eight wins this season, Harden scored 40 points, but was only 5-14 when defended by David Nwaba, who is out with an ankle injury.
With Nwaba out, it didn’t matter who defended Harden. Alec Burks, Cedi Osman, Jordan Clarkson — they all tried and failed with help from the rest of the team. Harden got whatever shot he wanted when he wanted it. And he took 11 free throws.
As a team, the Rockets shot 52.3 percent from the field and 39.2 percent from three. The Cavs finished 45.5 percent from the field and 28.1 percent from three. Houston’s 141 points are the most points the Cavs have given up this season, surpassing the 141 points the Cavs gave up two days ago against the Pelicans.
The other major difference in the Cavs’ loss on Friday and their win in November was Collin Sexton’s performance. In the win, Sexton was starting for just the eighth time in his NBA career. In that game, he scored 29 points — his career-high to date — and repeatedly got into the lane. This time around, the Rockets schemed with traps and blitzes to force the ball out of his hands or make him take three-pointers — a strategy basically every team throws at Sexton in some way now, and for good reason.
Sexton finished Friday with 14 points on 4-9 shooting and four assists. Ante Zizic led the Cavs with 18 points off the bench. Cleveland’s also loss pushes it a full two games ahead of the Suns for the worst record in the NBA.
Up next: The Cavs play on Sunday in Los Angeles against the Lakers, who will not have LeBron James available due to a groin injury. Tipoff is at 9:30 p.m. EST.