Harden's 40 foils Suns' comeback vs. Rockets
PHOENIX -- The Houston Rockets blew an early 18-point lead and were down by one after three quarters in Phoenix.
Then, as he so often does, James Harden took over.
The NBA's leading scorer got 20 of his 40 points in the fourth quarter and the Rockets pulled away to beat the Suns 127-118 on Tuesday night.
"He made all the tough plays for his team, like all great players do," the Suns' Eric Bledsoe said. "You know, he's in the running for MVP and he should be up there."
Josh Smith added 20 in the highest-scoring game of the season for the Rockets, who trailed 89-88 at the end of the third.
"That (game) had more twists and turns than an old country road," Houston coach Kevin McHale said.
Eric Bledsoe scored 32, one shy of his career high, for the Suns, who enter the All-Star break losers of five of six. Bledsoe had 12 points in the fourth quarter.
Harden -- who will have his number retired by Arizona State on Wednesday night -- ended the first and second quarters with a 3-pointer, then opened the fourth with a four-point play that put the Rockets ahead for good. He scored eight in a row during a 2-minute stretch late in the fourth.
"James played really, really well," McHale said. "He's been playing at a high level."
Harden has 85 points in his last two games. He scored 45 -- one shy of his career high -- in a loss to Portland on Sunday and has six games of at least 40 points this season.
"I mean, credit to my teammates," he said. "They're doing a great job of setting screens and getting me open."
Harden came off the court with his left arm dangling in the third quarter but wasn't out of the game long.
"I went to the basket pretty hard and all my weight went on my elbow," he said. "But I'm all right. It went numb right away and I had some pain but I got the feeling back right away."
Houston, winner of seven of nine, has one game before the break, Wednesday night against the Clippers in Los Angeles.
In the fourth quarter, Harden, the NBA's leading scorer at more than 27 points per game, made seven of 10 shots -- most on drives to the basket, was 1 of 3 on 3-pointers, and sank all five of his free throws. He also matched his season high with 12 rebounds in the game.
The Rockets shot 75 percent (15 of 20) in the fourth.
The 127 points were the most Phoenix has allowed in a non-overtime game this season.
Goran Dragic added 20 points for the Suns.
With Phoenix leading 89-88 to start the fourth, Harden sank a 3 from the top of the key, fell on his behind, as he does on almost every jumper, and Marcus Morris was called for the foul. Harden made the free throw and the four-point play put Houston up by three.
Bledsoe's 3 cut the Houston lead to 96-95, then Smith and Corey Brewer made 3s, Brewer scored on a rebound, Harden made three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point try, and the Rockets were up 104-95.
Down by 18 at the end of the third quarter and nine at the half, the Suns opened the second half with a 20-3 outburst, including 16 straight at one point. The Rockets missed nine shots in a row and Bledsoe's 19-footer put the Suns up 81-73 with 5:38 left in the quarter.
Houston regrouped for a 15-5 run and Smith's dunk on a pass inside from Harden put the Rockets back on top 85-83.
Rockets: Patrick Beverley was chosen to replace Washington's John Wall in the All-Star skills challenge. ... Beverley drew his third and fourth fouls in a five-second span in second quarter, then got a technical for complaining. ... Houston has beaten Phoenix five times in a row.
Suns: Phoenix's loss at Sacramento on Sunday was the fourth time this season the Suns have been beaten by a shot at the buzzer, three of them shots that bounced around before falling through the net. ... Bledsoe returned after missing the Sacramento game to go back to Alabama for the birth of his son. ... Alex Len missed his third game with a sprained ankle.
Rockets: At the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night.
Suns: Off for the All-Star break, don't play until Feb. 20 at Minnesota.