Rockets 121, Heat 118: M-V-goddamn-P

The Houston Rockets were on the second-half of a back to back. They were playing without Eric Gordon or Kenneth Faried, who both were nicked-up Wednesday against the Hornets. In their stead rookie Gary Clark, who had not scored since the beginning of January, started at small forward. Adding incompetence to injury, Tony Brothers, forever jealous of PJ Tucker’s magnificent forehead, was the head referee. And with the Celtics, Raptors, and Sixers up next, it was a game Houston had to win. They needed the MVP.

James Harden was struggling. He had missed 28 of 31 threes in the Rockets’ three previous games and was reportedly playing through a shoulder injury. He came out strong in the first, hitting his normal array of deep threes and soft floaters, but the Rockets couldn’t pull away. He had to be better.

Miami started the second quarter in a 2-3 zone, keeping Harden on the perimeter and Capela stationary in the middle. With no interior threat, the Heat were able to smother Houston’s shooters. The Rockets got desperate early, attempting to split double teams and, if they managed to get inside, throwing low percentage passes that Miami easily intercepted. Houston turned it over seven times in the first four minutes. By halftime the Heat had built a 14-point lead. Harden had 21 points, but he had to be better.

Miami stuck with the zone to start the third, and while they managed to push the lead out to 21, the Rockets had started to figure it out. By getting into their actions early and getting Capela moving by assigning him a series of off-ball screens, they were able to pull the zone inside, giving Harden, Rivers, and Clark room on the perimeter to make plays. 

Houston quickly cut the lead to seven and would have gotten it to four on a Gerald Green three had the refs not called a moving screen on PJ Tucker a moment before. Tucker followed the offending ref to half-court and was quickly ejected with two technical fouls by Tony Brothers, a man some believe to be the second coming of Benito Mussolini. The call marked a five-point swing. Replay showed Tucker had been dragged down by the neck. Miami took advantage of the momentum swing and pushed the lead out to double-digits by the end of the third. 

Harden had 41 after three quarters, but he had to do more. 

He did. Harden didn’t come out for his usual rest at the beginning of the fourth, opting instead to play the entire second half. By this time Miami had abandoned the zone, allowing Houston to go back to its regularly scheduled programming. 

The Rockets put up 35 points in the fourth, outscoring the Heat by 15. And while it was close at the end, the momentum was such that it was hard to imagine the Rockets losing. While Chris Paul put the final nail in the coffin on a short jumper with under a minute to go, Harden was the hero, putting up 17 points in the final frame and carrying his team on his back like they were weightless, all the way to a 121-118 win. It was enough. 

Not only was the Beard’s performance yet another milestone on his way to a possible second MVP, it was also another accomplishment marking him as an all-time great. With 58 points and 10 assists, Harden recorded his seventh 50 and 10 game. Nobody else has more than three. 

His stats weren’t spectacular for spectacular’s sake either. They were in pursuit of a crucial win that, along with an OKC loss, moved them within two games of the third seed in the West. And, you should know that by pulling Houston closer to the Thunder in the standings, Harden is nullifying the MVP candidacy of Paul George, if, perchance, you care about such things (you should). 

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