HOUSTON -- The Rockets handled all the praise that came their way late Sunday night with a deft touch, noting to a man that their opponent played the previous night in Orlando and that this result was a measuring stick and nothing more.
MVP candidate James Harden recorded his 16th triple-double and the Houston Rockets grabbed a season-high 20 offensive rebounds to claim a white-knuckle, back-and-fourth affair with the Cleveland Cavaliers 117-112 at Toyota Center.
Harden scored a game-high 38 points and added 10 rebounds and 11 assists as Houston (46-21) split the season series with Cleveland (43-22). His 11-point third quarter helped the Rockets erase a 67-58 halftime deficit and his nine points, four rebounds and two assists in the final period enabled Houston to pull away late.
Houston committed just six turnovers and parlayed their dominance on the offensive glass into 15 second-chance points. The Cavaliers shot 52.5 percent from the floor but were minus-16 in shot attempts, a mark of the Rockets' effort.
"It was key for us to make sure we blocked him (Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson) off and gang rebound," said Harden, who scored or assisted on 65 points and is averaging 32.7 points in his triple-doubles. "Even guards like Lou (Williams) got six rebounds. That was one of the big keys going into the game."
The Cavaliers fell to 22-2 when shooting at least 50 percent. LeBron James paced Cleveland with 30 points and added seven rebounds and five assists while Kyrie Irving chipped in 28 points and eight assists. Richard Jefferson tallied 16 points on 6-of-6 shooting but did not attempt a shot over 15 second-half minutes for Cleveland, which fell to 0-9 on the road in the second half of back-to-backs.
"We competed and we played hard and fought down the stretch and we got tired," Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. "I thought LeBron got tired and Kyrie got tired. What we took advantage of in the first half we weren't able to get those things in the second half because our guys got tired."
The Rockets and Cavaliers combined to shoot 33 for 88 from behind the arc, and they began exchanging perimeter haymakers essentially from the opening tip.
Houston slugged first with five consecutive field goals coming from deep late in the first quarter, a stretch that turned a one-point deficit into a 30-22 lead with 54.5 seconds left. But when James returned from a brief rest at the 20-second mark, he took advantage of Gordon and keyed an 11-0 run to a 35-33 advantage.
Cleveland followed with its own blistering 3-point shooting in the second, connecting on six consecutive treys for its double-digit lead. Jefferson tallied four of those 3s, including two in succession that pushed the Cavaliers to a 57-45 lead.
"I feel like we should've taken a little bit more," Irving said of the barrage of 3-pointers. "A few times I gave up some open 3s. We definitely had some open looks but they just didn't go down and that's on us."
The Rockets, meanwhile, hit just 2 of 9 from long range in the period and needed a driving layup from Harden to slice a 63-49 deficit to nine by the break. When Harden got rolling in the third, Houston combined an intensified defensive effort with his blitz to work their way into contention. When four different players scored during a 13-5 spurt in the fourth quarter, the Rockets seized control.
"Resilient win," Rockets forward Ryan Anderson said. "It was belief in our system, belief in each other and just locking down. Especially in the second half we were talking a ton about locking down on defense and running. That's our advantage every night: Getting stops and our ability to space the floor and run."
-- Cavaliers F Kyle Korver missed a third consecutive game with a sore left foot. Korver has been shut down for at least a week to deal with the injury.
-- LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Richard Jefferson combined for 49 points on 19-for-24 shooting in the first half. Cleveland shot 63.4 percent prior to the intermission.
-- Rockets F Ryan Anderson scored 16 points on 4-of-7 shooting from behind the arc. Houston improved to 20-6 when Anderson scores 15-plus points.
-- The Rockets needed a victory plus a Portland loss to clinch a postseason berth. The Trail Blazers defeated the Phoenix Suns 110-101 on the road.