HOUSTON -- Having clawed back from double-digit deficits in each of their previous five games, the Houston Rockets appeared set to cruise on Tuesday night before their penchant for performing in the clutch came in handy once again.
Harden totaled 40 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists and Houston (31-9) needed his production after Charlotte (20-19) erased what was a 23-point deficit with tenacity and impressive shooting.
Rockets reserve forward Corey Brewer sank a 3-pointer for a 108-90 lead with 8:05 left before the Hornets responded with a 21-2 rally. Charlotte nailed four consecutive 3s during the comeback, two from center Frank Kaminsky. When Kaminsky hit another trey with 2:27 left, Charlotte led 111-110.
Following a Houston timeout, Harden assisted on a Ryan Anderson 3 before adding a pair of driving layups as Houston closed with an 11-3 run to extend its winning streak to nine consecutive games.
"We've faced plenty of these moments already as a team where we have to make big plays down the stretch," Anderson said. "We just have confidence in the next guy to make a big play, and we did."
While Harden produced his second consecutive 40-point triple-double he had plenty of support. Brewer scored a season-high 15 points while forward Trevor Ariza added 16 points. Center Montrezl Harrell totaled 14 points on 5-for-5 shooting, including two late free throws, while Anderson had 13.
Hornets guard Kemba Walker scored a team-high 25 points with 10 assists and six rebounds while Kaminsky (22 points) was one of three Charlotte reserves to reach double figures in points. Spencer Hawes scored 16 points in 25 minutes before fouling out in the fourth quarter while Marco Belinelli added 15 points. Charlotte hit 19 3-pointers but lost for a 12th consecutive season at Toyota Center.
"The second half we ran back on defense and did a better job rebounding," Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. "It's always going to come down to the basic principles."
The Hornets' perimeter shooting erased an early 12-point deficit and forecast what was to come in the fourth quarter. Charlotte drilled four 3-pointers in the first period and led 24-23 on a Belinelli pull-up jumper before the Rockets closed the first with a 9-2 run to take a 32-26 lead into the second.
It was more of the same for Houston with Harden returning from his customary rest midway through the second quarter to carry the Rockets into the intermission. Harden had a hand in 13 consecutive points for the Rockets, drilling two 3s and converting a driving layup while also assisting on a Nene alley-oop and an Anderson trey that pushed the advantage to 20 points. All told it was a 17-3 run, and Harden closed the half with 22 points as Houston maintained its cushion at 67-47 at the break.
"As long as I play the right way and be unselfish and we win games, all of that is going to come," Harden said of MVP consideration. "I don't really put too much into that or think about it too much. If it happens it happens. The most important thing is winning."
But after scoring 30 points in the paint in the first half, the Rockets didn't record an interior basket until the final minute of the third quarter. Charlotte had pulled to within 11 late in the third before Houston closed that period on a 10-4 run, including a Harden 3 with 29.4 seconds left, to keep its commanding lead. When Houston threatened to coast to the win, the Hornets' shooting turned the tide.
"We tried everything in our power trying to get a win," Walker said. "That's a really good team and we're at their house and it was really tough. We played as hard as we could but we just fell short."
NOTES: Hornets G Nicolas Batum missed his second consecutive game with a hyperextended right knee sustained last week in a loss at Detroit. Batum was unavailable last Saturday against the Spurs in San Antonio and is expected to be sidelined 1-to-2 weeks. ... Rockets G Eric Gordon missed his first game of the season with a sprained left big toe. Gordon, second on the team in scoring at 17.8 points per game and the NBA leader with 145 3-pointers entering Tuesday, will not travel with the team to Minnesota for Wednesday night's game against the Timberwolves. ... Hornets C Cody Zeller was sidelined due to illness. Zeller made his return from a three-game concussion hiatus last Saturday against the San Antonio Spurs. ... The Rockets won at least eight consecutive games for a second time this season, the third time in franchise history they've had at least two eight-game winning streaks in a single campaign. Houston won 10 consecutive games Dec. 1-17.