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Harden scores 35 points to lead Rockets to 107-95 win over Raptors


TORONTO — What used to be the Toronto Raptors' beloved "Bench Mob" has seen better days.

Toronto's second unit couldn't sustain a big third quarter and a 22-point comeback by the starters on Tuesday, and the Raptors dropped an ugly 107-95 decision to James Harden and the Houston Rockets.

Kawhi Leonard had 26 points to lead the Raptors (46-19), who dug themselves a 22-point deficit in the second quarter, made a game of it in the third, and saw their momentum hit a brick wall with the bench in the fourth.

The Raptors enjoyed the best bench in the league last season. Now?

"I don't know (what's wrong), man," Kyle Lowry said. "I think it's a coaches question. For us as players, we've just got to go out there and play harder and move the ball, share the ball better and get back on defence. That second unit, whoever that group is, they've got to continue to follow the game plan and just play harder, honestly."

Harden had 19 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter as the Rockets (39-25) stretched their winning streak to six games.

Pascal Siakam added 17 points for Toronto, while Danny Green added 14 and Serge Ibaka chipped in with 10.  

Coming off a 112-107 overtime loss to former coach Dwane Casey and his Detroit Pistons on Sunday, the Raptors has a horrible first half in Tuesday's much-anticipated battle against one of the league's elite teams. Toronto coughed up 19 points on turnovers, and made just three of 13 three-point shots.

The Rockets blasted the game open with a 17-2 second-quarter run to go up by 22, and the Raptors trudged off the Scotiabank Arena court at halftime to a smattering of boos.

The Raptors starters roared out of the break with a 15-2 run of their own, outscoring the Rockets 34-14 in the third quarter — Siakam's 15 points alone in the frame topped Houston's — and led 71-69 with one quarter to play.

Then the second unit subbed in and things quickly went south.

"It's a new team," Siakam said. "A lot of new things happening, and you just got to figure that out. You've got to do a better job communicating.

"Most of the time, it's just effort, too. The effort has to be better. We've just got to play harder. And I think that's going to come, and we just got to figure that out with the new guys, and knowing what their tendencies are, and that's something that we're going to get better at."

Toronto made some major moves at the trade deadline, acquiring Marc Gasol and Jeremy Lin, and also acquired Patrick McCaw, who all came off the bench Tuesday. Raptors coach Nick Nurse has moved Gasol in and out of the starting lineup.

"(It's) just the chemistry, lineup changes. One time Marc is in, one time Serge is in there, some guys are hurt, guys are in and out, still figuring it out, some guys still learning the plays," Danny Green said. 

The Rockets shot the lights out in the fourth quarter, and when Harden drilled a three with just under six minutes to play, the long bomb was Houston's seventh three-pointer of the quarter, giving the visitors a 14-point lead. Two free throws from Ibaka sliced Houston's lead to nine points, but that was as close as Toronto would come.

"A little ups and downs tonight. It wasn't 48 minutes, but these guys are too good to go in and think you're going to go in (and) just blow them out," said Houston coach Mike D'Antoni. "I thought at the end James (Harden) got back on his game. The bench did a terrific job ­­— Nene, Gerald (Green), Austin (Rivers)."

When Harden converted a three-point play with just under a minute to play, hundreds of disgruntled Raptors fans already had their backs turned. They were headed for the exits.

Asked about his second unit, Nurse said: "There were just mistakes on defence and that goes under the category of not playing well. Gotta be better, gotta be better.

"And to answer your question, we've been through some ups and downs with our second unit this year and we're going to still keep working it and taking a look at it and I'm sure they'll bounce back."

With 17 regular seasons left, can the Raptors figure it out before the post-season?

"You hope so," Danny Green said. "We'll figure it out. When you have guys with such high IQ who have been in this league a long enough time you should be able to figure it out."

The Raptors at least have the schedule on their side the rest of the way. Tuesday's game was one of three remaining in the regular-season against teams that have a winning record, the fewest of any team in the league. They face Oklahoma City in a home-and-home series later this month.

The Raptors' next six games are against opponents with sub .500 records, beginning Friday when they play in New Orleans. They'll play in Miami on Sunday and in Cleveland on Monday, before returning home to host the Los Angeles Lakers on March 14.

Neither team led by more than five points in a messy first quarter that saw eight combined turnovers. The Raptors were just 1-for-6 from long distance, and trailed the Rockets 23-19 to start the second.

Clint Capela's running layup put Houston up by 22 points midway through the second and capped the Rockets' 17-2 run. Houston went into halftime up 55-37.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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