HOUSTON (AP) — Russell Westbrook said he’ll take some time to reflect on the significance of his latest performance.
After posting his second straight triple-double since joining the Houston Rockets and the 139th of his career, Westbrook passed Magic Johnson for second on the all-time list, behind only Oscar Robertson’s 181.
Westbrook had 28 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds and James Harden had 29 points to lead the Rockets to a 126-123 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
“I know nowadays getting a triple-double seems normal, but I take a lot of pride and a lot of energy and sacrifice and a lot of things I do off the floor to get ready to compete and play at a high level,” Westbrook said. “For me, that’s a great accomplishment, especially growing up and never thinking I would be able to play in the NBA. Now, I’m able to be in the history books. It’s a blessing, and I don’t take it for granted.”
Westbrook hit two clutch free throws to give Houston the three-point lead with 6.1 seconds remaining. Josh Hart missed a 3 at the buzzer and Houston held on.
Houston worked through occasional chemistry issues, frequently turning the ball over on errant passes. Westbrook and Harden combined for 12 turnovers, with Harden leading the game with eight. Harden was 2 of 18 from the 3-point line after going 1 for 8 in the season opener. He was 8-for-29 from the field, but was 11 of 12 from the free throw line.
Harden shrugged off the shooting woes.
“I’m going to take as many shots as they give me,” Harden said. “Tonight, they didn’t fall. But the most important thing is, we’ve got to win. I think we locked in defensively when we needed to get stops. It’s slowly coming together.”
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni also said he wasn’t alarmed by Harden’s rough shooting start to the season.
“I don’t care who he’s playing against, what kind of scheme — either he gets 50 or he doesn’t, and that’s depending on him,” D’Antoni said. “I’m expecting next game he’ll do it, and if not, the game after.”
On Westbrook, D’Antoni complimented his poise and how nothing fazes him, calling the guard “relentless.” Similarly, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry called Westbrook the Energizer Bunny for his unwavering energy.
“The people that say, ‘How are they going to fit or how are they going to do?’ When you’re great players, you find a way to make it work, and they’re great players,” Gentry said.
The Rockets bounced back after a 117-111 season-opening loss to Milwaukee on Thursday night.
Brandon Ingram gave Houston’s defense fits, scoring 35 points while adding a game-high 15 rebounds. Lonzo Ball had 18 points on 4 of 9 shooting from 3.
New Orleans is off to its first 0-3 start since the 2016-2017 season.
“We’re a work in progress,” Gentry said. “I loved the effort that we played with and thought we did a really good job. We put ourselves in a position to win against a really good team.”
The Pelicans were without point guard Jrue Holiday, who is day-to-day with a left knee sprain. Hart started in Holiday’s place, scoring 23 points in 34 minutes. The Pelicans are already without top draft pick Zion Williamson, who is expected to miss the first six to eight weeks of the season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair the lateral meniscus in his right knee.
For the last play of the third quarter, Westbrook found Austin Rivers for a corner 3 to cut New Orleans’ lead to 100-97 entering the fourth quarter.
The Rockets opened up the final quarter on an 8-0 run, capped off by a thunderous two-handed dunk by Westbrook in transition to put Houston up 105-100.
The Rockets led 29-24 at the end of the first quarter, but the Pelicans had a better second quarter and entered halftime tied at 61.
In the final play of the first half, Harden was unable to cleanly get a 3 off at the buzzer in a heavily defended shot attempt. After the horn sounded, Harden slammed the ball off the court in frustration, only for it to come back hit him in the mouth.
“It got my beard so it just protected me,” Harden said with a laugh.
Pelicans: Hart received a technical foul shortly after hitting a 3-pointer midway through the third quarter, possibly for taunting but it was unclear. … Jahlil Okafor fouled out of the game early in the fourth quarter after playing less than 12 minutes in the game.
Rockets: All Houston starters scored in double-figures, and Eric Gordon added 13 points off the bench. … Houston went 13 of 45 from 3 (28.9.
There was a pre-game demonstration outside of the main entrance of the Toyota Center by several dozen people holding signs and wearing shirts in support of anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.
Houston general manager Daryl Morey angered China with a since-deleted tweet in support of the protesters earlier this month. Several protesters attended Thursday night’s season opener, but fewer were seen in attendance on Saturday night.
ASTROS SCORE UPDATES
Some of the loudest cheers from the relatively lightly attended Toyota Center crowd came when the Rockets posted score updates and video highlights on the videoboard from the Houston Astros’ World Series Game 4, happening simultaneously in Washington. The Rockets PA announcer even accidentally called JJ Redick “Josh Reddick” on one 3-pointer to the crowd before correcting himself. Reddick is an Astros outfielder.
Pelicans: Host Golden State on Monday night.
Rockets: Host Oklahoma City on Monday night.
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