James Harden Leads Houston Rockets Past Phoenix Suns, 127-118

The Houston Rockets went into Phoenix and came away with a nice victory, as they defeated the Suns, 127-118. This was a high-paced where both teams made huge runs, but Houston played harder and grabbed more fifty-fifty balls that helped them pull away in the end.

James Harden led the way for Houston as he scored 40 points on 13-of-23 shooting from the field and 11-of-14 from the charity stripe, 20 of those points came in the fourth quarter. He also grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out nine assists leaving him one dime away from his second triple-double of the season. In his previous two games against Phoenix, Harden averaged 24 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 8.5 assists.

With Dwight Howard still out with a back injury, Josh Smith’s role has increased even though he is coming off the bench. In 32 minutes of play, Smith scored 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting while grabbing six rebounds. Donatas Motiejunas was only able to play 17 minutes tonight because of foul trouble, but in that short span of time he was able to score 12 points. Patrick Beverley added 15 points and six assists, while Corey Brewer came off the bench to score 14 points and grab seven rebounds.

What is overshadowed by Harden’s stellar performance was the 32-point outbreak by Eric Bledsoe for Phoenix. Bledsoe shot 9-of-19 from the field and was in attack mode as he went 12-of-13 from the free-throw line. His backcourt mate Goran Dragic added 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting, and Isaiah Thomas came off the bench with 14 points and six assists.

The starting frontcourt tandem of Markieff Morris and P.J. Tucker combined to score 33 points on 13-of-28 shooting with 13 rebounds and five assists. Miles Plumlee’s stat line isn’t gaudy, but he grabbed seven rebounds and blocked four shots to go along with his five points. With Alex Len out, Plumlee is expected to be given an opportunity to play significant minutes.

Early on, it looked like Houston might run away with this game as they scored 41 points in the first quarter and led by 18 points. Give credit to Phoenix as they clawed their way back and led by one point at the end of the third quarter. The Suns held Houston to 47 points combined through the second and third quarters. Phoenix could only hold down James Harden and the Rockets for so long, and when the game reached crunch time, Harden took over making tough shots over any Phoenix defender who dared to try and stop the All-Star.

The Suns' lack of size hurt them tonight as they gave up 58 points in the paint and were out-rebounded, 47-to-39. On top of that, they allowed Houston to shoot 50.5 percent from the field and 40.5 percent from behind the arc (15-of-37). What it boiled down to was lack of defensive intensity and their slow start that spotted Houston an 18-point lead. Yes, they regained the lead but used a ton of energy to do so, making it almost impossible to hold on and grab this win.

The Houston Rockets have a quick turnaround as they face the Los Angeles Clippers tomorrow night in the Staples Center at 10:30 PM EST on ESPN. That will be their last game before the All-Star break. This was the Phoenix Suns' last game before the All-Star break. They limped into the break losing five of their last six games. They face the Minnesota Timberwolves on February 20th on the road at 8:00 PM EST.