BOSTON – James Harden and the Houston Rockets are at their best when they are knocking down 3-pointers, getting points in the paint and racking up points to the foul line.
They did all three against the Boston Celtics and it added up to a mostly easy outing against a team that is continuing to struggle.
Harden had 42 points before fouling out late in the fourth quarter and Houston held on to beat Boston 115-104 on Sunday for its fifth straight victory.
Harden made six 3-pointers and scored 40 or more points for the 24th time this season. Houston entered the day in fifth place in the Western Conference standings, a game behind fourth-place Oklahoma City.
Eric Gordon added 32 points and had eight 3-pointers.
“We’re finally healthy, so yeah. It feels good,” Harden said. “We winning, guys know their roles, we’re executing defensively, we’re helping each other out, we’re talking. That’s all it’s about.”
Boston has lost five of six since returning from the All-Star break. Kyrie Irving led the Celtics with 24 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Al Horford finished with 19 points.
Boston did a decent job trying to contain Harden, limiting him to 14-of-31 shooting from the field and nine free throw attempts.
But the Celtics were inefficient when they had the ball, shooting 48 percent (37 of 77) for the game and 29 percent (8 of 28) from beyond the arc.
The Celtics started the fourth quarter with a 17-6 run to cut what had been a 28-point deficit to 106-96 with 6:08 to play.
Terry Rozier got fouled on a 3-pointer at the five-minute mark, but missed all three free throws.
It was 109-100 when Nene’s rebound gave Houston a second opportunity after a Gordon miss. It wound up in Harden’s hands and he stepped back and swished his final 3 of the game to push the lead back up to 12.
But with Houston leading 112-104, Harden fouled out when he was called for an offensive foul with 1:44 left.
The Celtics came up empty on their next trip down the floor and were forced to foul after failing to corral Austin Rivers’ miss from deep.
Boston earned its first victory since the All-Star break on Friday night against Washington. But on Sunday the Celtics fell back into many of the same bad habits that had caused them to lose four straight prior to that win over the Wizards.
Horford said he couldn’t point to just one thing as the main culprit of their issues right now.
“We’ve had some good moments. But right now, unfortunately, we’re going through a really bad stretch,” Horford said. “This is when our group needs to make sure that we stay together.”
Things don’t get any easier for Boston, which plays its next four on the road. Its trip out West begins with a matchup against Golden State and ends with games against the Lakers and Clippers.
Pistons 112, Raptors 107 (OT)
In Detroit, Blake Griffin scored 14 of his 27 points in the first quarter and the Pistons outlasted Toronto.
Detroit took advantage of the Raptors resting star forward Kawhi Leonard less than 48 hours after he made the go-ahead shot in the closing seconds in a victory over Portland.
Reggie Jackson scored 19 points for Detroit and Andre Drummond had 15 points and 17 rebounds.
Kyle Lowry scored a season-high 35 points for Toronto. Pascal Siakam added 21.
Hawks 123, Bulls 118
In Chicago, Alex Len scored a season-high 28 points and Atlanta beat Chicago, two days after the Bulls outlasted the Hawks 168-161 in quadruple overtime in Atlanta.
Len finished three points shy of his career high. He also made a personal-best five 3-pointers.
Trae Young scored 18 before getting ejected early in the third quarter after taunting Chicago’s Kris Dunn for his second technical foul. Lauri Markkanen led Chicago with 19 points.
In Other Games
Thunder 99, Grizzlies 95
Clippers 128, Knicks 107
Trail Blazers 118, Hornets 108
Cavaliers 107, Magic 93
Wizards 135, Timberwolves 121
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5