AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — With a new team and a new role, James Harden looked as comfortable as could be.
Harden had 37 points and 12 assists in a sensational debut for Houston, and Carlos Delfino made four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to lift the Rockets to a 105-96 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night.
Detroit led 83-72 early in the fourth, but Harden and Delfino brought the Rockets back. Houston acquired Harden on Saturday night in a trade with Oklahoma City and on Wednesday he agreed to a five-year, $80 million contract extension.
“I think I just wanted to get out there and play,” Harden said. “All the talking and all the craziness that has been happening this last week — I just wanted to go out there and play basketball.”
The reigning Sixth Man of the Year fell just short of his career high of 40 points, and his 12 assists were a career best. Not bad for a guy still adjusting to new teammates and a new situation.
Harden started only seven games in three seasons in Oklahoma City, as he developed into an indispensable reserve. But he was in the starting lineup Wednesday and looked ready to play a bigger role with Houston.
“We thought he would have had a tougher time as far as figuring out their offense, but they only stuck to a couple plays the entire game,” Detroit’s Tayshaun Prince said. “We know what type of player James Harden is. The more he has the ball in his hands, the more dangerous he is.”
Jeremy Lin, Houston’s other big acquisition, had 12 points and eight assists. The Rockets won without Patrick Patterson, who was out with a left quad strain.
Brandon Knight led Detroit with 15 points.
With Houston down 11 points, Harden started the comeback with a 3-pointer, and Greg Smith followed with a dunk. Detroit led only 85-83 after consecutive 3-pointers by Delfino, then a layup by Chandler Parsons tied it.
Smith dunked to put the Rockets ahead 89-87, and he dunked again to make it a four-point game before hobbling off with what he later said was a minor left foot injury. By then, Houston was taking control of the game behind its two new playmakers, Harden and Lin.
“They’re very smart players. You’ve got to give credit to them,” Smith said. “They know what they’re doing on the court. They’re very intelligent.”
A dunk by Detroit’s Jonas Jerebko cut the lead to two, but Delfino made two more 3-pointers to make it 97-89.
Harden pretty much put the game away with a three-point play with 1:27 remaining that put Houston ahead 104-94.
“They keep it so simple as far as just spreading it out and letting him create,” Detroit’s Rodney Stuckey said. “Pick and rolls, that’s pretty much what got us. They did a good job of spreading us out. He was getting in the lane, making shots and finding his teammates and they were making shots, too.”
Attendance was announced at 16,646 at the Palace, and there were plenty of empty seats on Halloween. The fans who did turn out saw an entertaining performance by the Pistons that ultimately fell short.
Harden scored 19 points in the first half, but Detroit led 58-55 after a 36-point second quarter.
“I thought it was a challenge for James to kind of figure out what we were doing,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “We put some plays in that he was comfortable with that they ran at Oklahoma City.”
The Rockets led 65-58 after Harden’s two-handed dunk off a nice one-handed bounce pass from Lin. The Pistons looked terrific for the rest of the quarter. They scored 13 straight points — including consecutive dunks by Greg Monroe and Jason Maxiell — to take a 71-65 lead.
A 3-pointer by Harden cut the deficit to two, but Detroit ran off another eight straight points and led 79-69 following a basket by Kyle Singler.
It was 81-72 after three quarters.
NOTES: Detroit’s Corey Maggette was out with a left calf strain. … There was a brief delay near the end of the second quarter when what looked like steam began coming out of a generator behind one of the baskets. … Stuckey went 1 for 10 from the field. … Pistons owner Tom Gores was noncommittal when asked about the possibility of the team someday playing in downtown Detroit. “You don’t want to leave and say, ‘Nice to see you, the Palace.’ I don’t think you want to do that,” Gores said. “If the future is downtown and that’s what we have to do to grow, I’m not against that.”
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