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NBA: Free throws lift Rockets

Harden assist sets up Nene for 2 foul shots.

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Brazil’s Nene drained two clutch free throws with 0.7 seconds left on the clock to lift the Houston Rockets to a 118-116 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday.

James Harden nearly had a triple-double for the Rockets with 26 points, eight rebounds and 12 assists as Nene added a season-high 18 points.

All five Rockets starters scored in double figures and Eric Gordon came off the bench to score 22.

The game-deciding drama started with an inbounds play with three seconds left. Nene set a screen for Harden and drove to the basket. Harden passed out of the double team, hitting Nene in stride and forcing Thunder forward Jerami Grant to commit the foul.

“They (the Thunder) did a good job (setting up defensively) on the first play so we called a timeout,’’ Harden said.

“I just got open and I saw two defenders guarding me, made the simple play to Nene and he knocked down two free throws.’’

The Rockets win spoiled a dynamic performance from Russell Westbrook who made a career-high eight three pointers en route to a 49-point night.

Westbrook shot 16 of 34 as Oklahoma City nearly overcame an 18-point deficit after blowing an early 14-point lead.

Victor Oladipo nailed a shot from beyond the arc for a 116-114 lead with 1:55 remaining. The Thunder dominated the Rockets on the boards in the fourth period, getting 13 rebounds in total from Enes Kanter, who also had 15 points.

Elsewhere, a determined Kyle Lowry led the charge by scoring 33 points as the Toronto Raptors returned home from a road trip and knocked off the Utah Jazz 101-93.

DeMar DeRozan gave Toronto its first lead with 3:08 remaining and contributed 23 points and seven rebounds.

Jonas Valanciunas added 18 points and 13 rebounds for Toronto, which just completed a six-game road trip.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey said Lowry outworks his opponents.

“I’ll tell you what, if it’s a loose ball down there, he’s like a little pit bull,’’ Casey said. “That’s why he is who he is. He’s been that way since high school and it’s not going to change. He took over the game down the stretch.’’

Shelvin Mack led Utah with 17 points while starting his third straight game for injured George Hill. Gordon Hayward added 16 and Rudy Gobert finished with 15 points and 16 rebounds.

In Portland, Damian Lillard returned from an ankle injury to spark the Trail Blazers to a 115-109 victory over the lowly Los Angeles Lakers.

Thursday’s Games
Indiana 121, Brooklyn 109
Detroit 115, Charlotte 114
Atlanta 99, New Orleans 94
Phoenix 102, Dallas 95
San Antonio 127, Denver 99