HOUSTON (AP) — Rookie Jabari Smith Jr. hit a 3-pointer with less than a second remaining to give the Houston Rockets a 114-112 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night in the first of straight games between the teams.
Smith hit the shot over defender Naji Marshall from slightly right of straightaway and immediately turned to his coach Stephen Silas, who was pointing at Smith in celebration.
“It says a lot about our resilience, our execution, the guys we have in that locker room. A lot of guys played well on both ends of the floor,” Silas said. “Everybody had a part in it, but it says a couple things. We’re moving in the right direction, we’re feeling good about ourselves, and there’s been some improvement.”
Smith had 11 points and eight rebounds in 29 minutes. It was his only 3-pointer in three attempts. Smith was rewarded the game ball, which he immediately delivered to his father.
“I felt like I was in a video game,” Smith said. “It was crazy. It was like I didn’t see anybody else. The gym went blank, it was just me and him. It was a special moment, for sure.”
Jalen Green led Houston with 25 points and had seven rebounds and six assists. Kevin Porter Jr. added 20 points and six assists.
Brandon Ingram led New Orleans with 31 points. Jonas Valanciunas added 22 points and 17 rebounds, one shy of his season high. Valanciunas had his first 20-point game since Jan. 20, bullying the Rockets in the paint and going 10 for 16 from the field with four blocks on the defensive end.
The teams will meet again Sunday night in Houston.
“It was tough, with a crazy shot at the end,” Ingram said. “But we know that we can clean up some mistakes that we had before that shot happened. It started with me with a couple of turnovers at the end of the game that kind of shifted the momentum for Houston. I’ve got to be better at executing plays.”
The Rockets entered the fourth quarter trailing 90-80. With Houston threatening late, Ingram blocked Green’s layup that would have cut the lead to one and made a layup in transition. It was a four-point swing that put New Orleans up five with 1:25 remaining.
Green hit a 22-foot jumper with 35.1 seconds remaining to make it 112-111. Porter rebounded Ingram’s miss to give the Rockets the final possession with 4.0 seconds remaining.
Houston went on a 22-0 run in the first half, turning a 26-12 deficit into a 34-26 lead. Across parts of the first and second quarters, New Orleans were trapped in a scoring drought of 6:10.
New Orleans regained the lead later in the second quarter after Herbert Jones intercepted a bad pass by Alperen Sengun and made a layup. Sengun finished with 17 points.
At 18-52, Houston has its first three-game winning streak since December 2021.
Pelicans: Zion Williamson (hamstring) and Jose Alvarado (tibial stress reaction) sat on the New Orleans bench in plainclothes. … Veteran centers Jaxson Hayes and Willy Hernangomez did not play.
Rockets: Porter received a technical foul midway through the third quarter, seemingly for arguing over a foul call. … Jae’Sean Tate had 12 points, six rebounds and five assists in 21 minutes.
BOBAN’S SHINING MOMENT
Fan favorite Boban Marjanovic, the 7-foot-4 veteran center from Serbia featured in television commercials, played less than two minutes Friday night, but he made a clutch contribution to the win. He was guarding the inbound pass on the final play of the game and tipped the alley-oop pass with 0.4 seconds, and time expired before the ball made it near the rim.
“Today, he gets a finger on it and the game was over as soon as he touches it,” Silas said. “I was really happy for him because he works really hard and everyone loves him. That was a huge play.”
Pelicans: Remain in Houston for a game on Sunday night.
Rockets: Host New Orleans again on Sunday night.