Harden’s buzzer-beater lifts Rockets past Suns; Howard injured
It was James Harden for the win, or overtime that seemed unimaginable halfway through the fourth quarter.
Harden made the 20-foot jumper as time ran out to lift the Houston Rockets to a 113-111 win over Phoenix on Friday night after the Suns came back from 16 points down to tie the score.
"It’s a great feeling," Harden said. "We had a pretty solid lead, we knew they were going to make a run. Make it or miss it and go into overtime. I made it."
Harden scored 33 points in the absence of injured star center Dwight Howard, who didn’t return after injuring his right ankle in the first quarter.
Harden, the NBA’s leading scorer entering the night at 27.2 points per game, added 10 assists and six rebounds and made 14 of 17 free-throw attempts for the Rockets. Donatas Motiejunas added 15 points as Houston improved to 24-2 when leading at halftime this season.
Houston had to fend off a late rally by the Suns, trailed 102-86 midway through the fourth and tied it on Markieff Morris’ three-point play with 16.6 seconds to play. The Rockets then held the ball for the game’s last shot.
"We flattened it out for James and James has been making big shots all year," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said.
"Tie game on the road, you live for those moments," Harden said.
Eric Bledsoe had 25 points, eight rebounds and nine assists to lead the Suns, who had won four straight overall and seven straight at home. Isaiah Thomas added 22 points and Morris had 21.
"It’s tough when you’re down and you fight so hard and you feel like you should have won and things like that happen," Thomas said of the winning shot.
Harden had 18 points at halftime, including three 3-pointers on four attempts and a high-flying dunk 4.9 seconds before the halftime buzzer that gave the Rockets a 60-52 lead at the break.
Howard’s night ended with just five points and three rebounds in about 8 1/2 minutes.
The Rockets didn’t seem to miss Howard’s 17-point, 11-rebounds-per-game averages, at least on the offensive end. They made 52.4 percent of their shots and dominated in the paint, outscoring the Suns 64-46 inside.
Six Rockets scored in double figures for the game.
The Suns trailed by 10 at the start of the fourth quarter and were down 16 after Harden’s layup with 6:11 to go. Phoenix then went on a 20-6 run to pull within two on Thomas’ 3 with 53 seconds remaining.
Houston took a 12-point lead in the first quarter on a floater from Corey Brewer with 1:22 left to play. Before that, the Rockets hit four 3-pointers, two that got friendly bounces high off the rim and dropped in for Howard and Harden.
Back-to-back 3s from Thomas pulled the Suns to 30-24 before the first quarter ended.
"I don’t know what we were doing that first eight minutes. It’s a sign that you’re not ready to play and you’re not focused," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said.
Phoenix cut the lead to 52-50 on Bledsoe’s 3 with 3:14 left in the first half. But Houston led by eight at the break.
Rockets: Harden was on the team’s injury report going into the game with a bruised left knee … G Patrick Beverley’s hustle stopped a layup attempt in the third quarter when he stripped the Suns’ Goran Dragic and forced a lost ball out of bounds, then Dragic, a former Rockets player, was whistled for a technical foul for arguing. … Houston’s 30-14 record is its best through 44 games since the 1996-97 season, when the Rockets were 32-12. .. Harden has 11 double-doubles and a league-high 20 30-point games this season.
Suns: Forward P.J. Tucker was issued a technical foul 26 seconds into the second half for getting in Harden’s face, as it was explained to Hornacek … Bledsoe has at least 25 points in back-to-back games for the first time this season.
Thomas drove baseline and drew a foul with 2:11 to play in the second quarter, throwing a pass at the whistle. The ball drilled official Scott Wall near his head as he tried to duck. Wall was OK.
Rockets: At Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.
Suns: Host Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.