Eighteen days ago, Houston’s James Harden sank a jumper at the buzzer to lead his team to victory over the Suns.
Tuesday night, Harden’s performance wasn’t a last-second dagger — it was a cannon, and it fired at will.
“The Beard” poured in 40 points with 12 rebounds and nine assists in the Rockets’ 127-118 victory over the Suns.
Phoenix (29-25) started the game poorly in almost every way. The Suns gave up four turnovers in five possessions and were prey to a 17-8 Houston opening run, nine points of which were off second chances on the glass. Phoenix also handed over 12 points off seven turnovers in the first period alone and was outscored 41-23, tying a season high for most points the Suns have given up in the first quarter this season.
There was also this little snafu, which summed up the first period’s miscues perfectly:
Yet Phoenix was able to rally, outscoring the Rockets 38-29 in the second quarter and opening the third with a 20-3 run to erase an 18-point first-half deficit.
Eric Bledsoe went to the line at 8:29 in the third quarter and sank his freebies to give the Suns their first lead of the night — a whopping 75 points to Houston’s 73.
Phoenix pushed the lead to eight points, but lights-out 3-point shooting by the Rockets and a four-point play from Harden in the fourth quarter gave Houston back its lead — they hit 15 3-pointers throughout the game.
And despite Bledsoe’s 32 points (his second-highest this season and one point under his career-high), the Suns couldn’t mount a second comeback, partially due to Harden’s 20 fourth-quarter points.
Phoenix will head to the All-Star break with five losses in its last six games.
What did the Suns’ 25th loss look like, by the numbers?
Harden had his 24th 30-plus-point game of the season and second against the Suns. In the teams’ last meeting, Harden had 33 points.
It was also his second consecutive 40-point game (he scored 45 against Portland Sunday) and his sixth this season.
Phoenix’s three main guards combined for 66 total points; more than half of the Suns’ total. Bledsoe led all scorers with 32, followed by Goran Dragic with 20 and Isaiah Thomas with 14.
Dragic was also clutch from the line, connecting on a career-high 12 of his 13 freebie attempts.
Both teams gave the ball away 14 times. Phoenix’s first four turnovers came in five possessions, allowing Houston to open with 12 points off seven first-quarter turnovers.
The Suns were out-rebounded 47-39 by the Rockets, who also scored 20 second-chance points in the first half alone.
Harden ended both the first and second quarters with a 3-pointer.
The Rockets’ 127 points are the second-most put up on the Suns this year. Oklahoma City holds the high spot with 137 in a Suns loss in overtime on Dec. 31.