HOUSTON — For three and a half quarters, the shorthanded New Orleans Pelicans were setting season highs and breaking franchise records on offense.
In the final six minutes, they ran out of gas and watched Rockets stars James Harden and Chris Paul hit the accelerator in driving Houston to its tenth straight win.
Despite scoring a season-high 123 points and hitting a franchise record 18 3-pointers, The Pelicans fell to the Rockets 130-123 at the Toyota Center on Monday night.
Jrue Holiday scored a season-high 37 points, E’Twaun Moore scored a career-high 36 and Rajon Rondo had a triple-double (13 points, 12 rebounds, 12 assists) for New Orleans.
But it was Harden and Paul that stole the show late. Harden finished with 26 points and career-high 17 assists, while Paul had 18 of his 20 points in the second half.
“We said we needed to get 120-125 points to win tonight and we did that, but their great players made great plays at the end of the game,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said.
“They are really good. You can see why they have the best record in the league.”
Harden hit two 3-pointers late and scored 12 points in the final quarter, in which Houston outscored New Orleans 34-20. Paul added three 3-pointers in the second half.
“I think we did everything we could do to give ourselves a chance to win,” Gentry said. “I was proud of our effort, but obviously Harden and CP3 closed out the game. They are great players.”
New Orleans (14-14) played without all-star Anthony Davis (adductor), as well as guards Jameer Nelson (ankle) and Tony Allen (knee).
Then, Dante Cunningham — who was listed as the starter to replace Davis — was lost with a right knee injury after the starting lineup was announced.
“We obviously knew guys were down tonight and the other guys had to step up to the challenge of the top team in the west,” said Holiday, who has now scored 30+ points in three of last five games.
“I know we are all tired — and that is not really an excuse — but to keep our composure and to keep fighting really brings us closer together.”
The missing players didn’t slow New Orleans offensively as the Pelicans made 15 of their first 19 shots, including seven 3-pointers.
New Orleans sprinted out to a 38-27 lead just nine minutes into the game, led by DeMarcus Cousins — who finished with 24 points and 14 rebounds — and Moore’s shooting from beyond the arc.
“I’m just being aggressive,” Moore said. “We have a lot of guys that can do a lot of things. It makes it easy playing off the guys we have.”
While Moore continued hitting 3s — he was 6 of 6 from beyond the arc in the first half — the Rockets (21-4) countered with Harden getting the ball to Clint Capela down low.
Capela finished with 28 points to lead Houston, while Eric Gordon added 27.
“That first half they put it on us, but you know we are still up two” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “So, it says a lot about our offense.”
New Orleans, which shot a season-high 57.6 percent from the field, led by as many as 13. While all five starters scored in double-digits, the Pelicans only got three points from their bench.
“We knew we were down guys, but we were out there just trying to play hard,” Moore said. “But it got a little tough for us in the fourth quarter. But we just need to keep working so we can pull off these types of games in the future.”