James Harden nailed a buzzer beater for the Houston Rockets to defeat the Phoenix Suns 113-111 to become the first team to knock off the Suns in Phoenix in the past eight attempts.
Harden took his defender off the dribble and nailed the pull-up jumper as time expired to win the game. The Suns had used a 25-9 run in the final six minutes of the game to tie the game at 111-111 before the dagger.
Houston (30-14) jumped out to a quick start and held an eight-point lead after the first quarter with Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverley each scored six points.
James Harden, who is leading the NBA in points per game with 27.2, took over the second quarter as he dropped 13 of his 18 first half points in the frame to maintain the eight-point lead at the half.
Phoenix cut the lead to 61-58 early in the third quarter, but within a two minute stretch the Rockets regained a double-digit lead behind a pair of buckets from Josh Smith and some help from Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas. Houston would push the lead to 87-77 entering the fourth quarter, but the Suns would not back down.
Jan 23, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Houston Rockets forward Josh Smith (5) drives to the basket against Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe in the second quarter at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
With under six minutes remaining in the game Houston found themselves up 102-86. Phoenix responded to the 16-point deficit with a 9-0 run in a 1:43 stretch to cut the lead to 102-95. A Marcus Morris three-pointer with 2:27 left cut the Houston lead down to 104-100.
After a Harden layup, Markieff Morris had an old-fashioned three-pointer on the and-one layup to cut the Rockets lead to 106-103 with 1:22 left in the game. Beverley responded with a layup off the top of the backboard, but Isaiah Thomas nailed a corner-three making it a 108-106 game with 50 seconds left.
Back on the Rockets offensive side of the court, Harden was fouled while driving to the rim, but split the free throw attempts to give Phoenix a chance to tie the game. Eric Bledsoe passed up on the corner-three and instead drove to the rim, missed the layup, but Markieff Morris was there to clean the glass with a put-back layup.
After a pair of free throws by Harden, Markieff Morris drove to the rim and was fouled while making the layup to tie the game at 111-111.
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Harden led the Rockets in scoring with 33 points and finished with a double-double as he added 10 assists as well. Harden was not extremely efficient from the field as he was 8-18 on field goals, but he worked his way to the free throw line repeatedly and went 14-17 from the charity stripe.
Dwight Howard suffered a right ankle injury early in the contest and did not return to the game. Howard did hit a three-pointer in his eight minutes of play on his way to totaling five points and three boards.
Phoenix (26-17) did not take advantage of the lack of post-presence with Howard out however as they still chucked up 30 three-point attempts, while only converting on 10 of them. Houston still outscored the Suns 64-46 in the paint without their star center.
Goran Dragic had arguably his worst game of the season as he only played 18 minutes and scored two points and had two assists as he couldn’t get anything going. Dragic’s backcourt-mate, Bledsoe, picked up the slack for him however as Bledsoe was the most consistent Sun on Friday finishing with 25 points, nine assists, and eight rebounds.
Thomas also helped pick up Dragic’s slack as he came off the bench to play 38 minutes and dropped 22 points. Markieff Morris was a bright-spot down the stretch as he scored 11 of his 21 points in the final quarter with clutch basket after clutch basket.
A key thing to look at is the distribution of minutes for the big-men. Alex Len played 24 minutes, Brandan Wright played 15 minutes, and Miles Plumlee played a lowly six minutes. Plumlee’s name has been thrown around in trade discussions ever since Wright was acquired.
The Suns will be back in action Sunday afternoon when they take on the Los Angeles Clippers at U.S. Airways Center at 4:00 p.m. MST.