Basketball: Harden fires Rockets to level series against Warriors, Bucks push Celtics to brink

HOUSTON (AFP) – James Harden scored 38 points and the Houston Rockets held off the Golden State Warriors 112-108 on Monday (May 6) to tie their National Basketball Association (NBA) semi-final play-off series at two games each.

Reigning champions Warriors head home for Game 5 of the best-of-seven Western Conference clash on Wednesday with a lot of work to do in a series in which each game has been decided by six or fewer points.

It was a different story on Monday in the East, as Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 17 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter to propel the Bucks to a 113-101 victory over the Celtics in Boston and a commanding 3-1 series lead.

Milwaukee will try to punch their ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals when they host Game 5 on Wednesday.

In Houston, reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Harden made sure the Rockets didn’t fall into a similar hole.

Harden scored 13 of his 18 first-half points in the second quarter and added another 13 in the third, when the Rockets stretched their lead to as many as 17.

The Warriors responded with an 11-0 scoring run in the third period, and put together a 7-0 run late in the fourth, when they pulled within two points on a Stephen Curry three-pointer with 19.3sec left.

Down 111-108 with 11.5sec remaining, Golden State saw Kevin Durant and Curry miss three-point attempts.

“Our motto was keep fighting,” said Harden, who also pulled down 10 rebounds. “We know how tough they are. We’ve got to keep fighting on both ends of the floor, stay in attack mode, be aggressive.”

Eric Gordon added 20 points for the Rockets and P.J. Tucker added 17 and 10 rebounds.

Durant paced the Warriors with 34 points. Curry added 30 points and Draymond Green posted a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds.

But in another bruising encounter between the two teams, Golden State made just eight of 33 three-point attempts. Curry and Klay Thompson combined to shoot just two of 10 from three-point range.

The Rockets, meanwhile, hit 17 of 50 from beyond the arc.

“I think both teams are doing what they’re doing and nothing’s really happened yet,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s 2-2. Each team have won two home games – that’s kind of how the play-offs go… We’ve just got to be a little better.”

Meanwhile, the Celtics need to be a lot better to avoid elimination against the Bucks.

“It’s win or go home,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens on Game 5.

“It takes a lot of mental fortitude. It takes a lot of mental toughness. It reveals a lot. I’m looking forward to that challenge.”

Antetokounmpo, coming off a 32-point game on Friday, connected on 15 of 22 shots from the field and pulled down 16 rebounds in the game-leading performance.

Bledsoe and Khris Middleton added 13 points each and George Hill had 15 points off the bench.

“It’s amazing,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think the whole group, the whole team played hard. Everybody was ready, everybody stepped up.

“This is what (separates) an average team from a great team, that if you have the opportunity to be up two games, we’re all ready.”

Kyrie Irving led the Celtics with 23 points and 10 assists, but made just seven of 22 shots from the field.

Overall, the Celtics made just 37.8 per cent of their shots and heard boos from the home field as they left the court.

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