Phoenix Suns 107, Houston Rockets 105: Harden Can’t Do It All

James Harden snapped out of his recent funk by exploding on the Suns with 38 points on 17 shots, but it simply wasn’t enough. The rest of the Rockets shot 38% from the field, falling to a scrappy Phoenix bench led by Hamed Haddadi, Kendall Marshall and Jared Dudley. The Rockets sputtered all night and weren’t ever quite able to get a run together after their 6-0 run to start the game. Some incredible late game heroics pushed the Rockets to within two by the buzzer, but the Rockets just couldn’t get in position for a win.

James Harden was a beast. He shot 7-10 from deep, grabbed 5 boards and dished  8 dimes. His 8 turnovers were grim indeed, but that wasn’t even half of the team’s total (19). As the game progressed and the win slipped farther out of Houston’s reach, Harden turned it on in the third and took over. The Rockets had been trying to create for a variety of scorers, to move the ball and to play as a team. That wasn’t working at all. When they simply gave the ball to Harden and let him break down his man, the Rockets scored. With fatigue aplenty to go around, perhaps there simply wasn’t enough in his tank to shoot more often. It’s too bad, because he was packing high octane in the tank.

Carlos Delfino was the only other Rocket making any headway against the Suns, turning in 21 points on 8-15 shooting. The rest of Houston’s had 9 points 25% shooting. The Suns’ bench, on the other hand, had 55 points on 44 shots. Jared Dudley led his team with 22 points on 75% from the field. Hamed Haddadi played solid defense and looked clearly better than Omer Asik. Kendall Marshall his huge, critical threes as well as a last second heave of a two that somehow found its way home. The Suns played their bench huge minutes, and those players simply looked fresher and more excited than anyone in red.

The difference in effort was striking. While a few 50/50’s went the Suns’ way, the fact of the matter is that the Suns’ bench unit simply beat the Rockets’ starters. Parsons had 14 points on 16 shots and Lin scored 11 on 9. The Rockets went 4-6 on free throws outside of Harden’s 9-12. Omer Asik grabbed 16 rebounds, but nobody else in red had more than 5. Patrick Beverley’s 5 assists beat out Lin’s 4 and the starters had 17 turnovers.

For a 2:45 stretch in the second, the Rockets went scoreless with 3 turnovers and 2 shot attempts. The Rockets’ offense has looked weak in recent games, and the ability to defense Golden State was crucial in their win on Friday. The Suns simply proved too much to handle as they scrambled and hustled to boost their chances. Discounting the four intentional fouls by Houston late in the game, both teams committed 20 fouls on the evening. The Suns, however, were much more aggressive with the ball, resulting in the Suns shooting 31 free throws to the Rockets’ 18. The Rockets shot over twice as many threes, and that’s not a recipe for shooting fouls.

There’s little good for Houston to take away from this game, save for perhaps a sense of urgency against the Suns on Wednesday, Houston’s next game. The Suns looked like a better team, winning despite starting center Marcin Gortat sitting with an injury. At the start of the year, these two teams were predicted to be between 30 to 40 wins, with the Suns being a bit better. The season so far has told a different story, but this alternate reality came true for a game tonight.

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Houston Rockets @ Phoenix Suns on 3/9/2013