Someone, P.J. Tucker is a good place to start, in that Phoenix Suns locker room has some explaining to do. Did they not read the scouting report? Don’t they know how much James Harden loves to play basketball in the Phoenix area? The Southern California native did paint the town (well, Tempe) for two years as an Arizona State Sun Devil.
So it’s only fitting that his first buzzer-beater (at least in the NBA) came on somewhat familiar turf. And after the way the Golden State Warriors pushed them around in their previous game, Harden’s Houston Rockets couldn’t afford another humbling defeat. Giving the NBA’s leading scorer 16 seconds to work is pretty unfair, if you ask me. That’s more than enough time for Harden to figure out how to take advantage of any elite defender and find a good shot.
If anyone was going to rescue the Rockets in the state of Arizona with a shot at the buzzer … someone find that darn scouting report.
Kevin McHale didn’t waste any time on the white board in the huddle. This was Clutch Bucket 101. “Give the ball to James and everyone else get the heck out of the way.” Without an immediate double-team of Harden that would have forced him to give the ball and make anyone but the best scorer in the league this season beat you, the Suns were baked the moment the ball was thrown in bounds. Again, Clutch Bucket 101!
The Rockets played the final three quarters without Dwight Howard, who left early with a sprained ankle. So that meant Harden spent his entire night going bananas on the Suns. He finished with 33 points, 10 assists and six rebounds and was his usual wicked self from the free-throw line (14-for-17). And somehow the Rockets still needed his heroics to outlast the Suns after leading by 16 points midway through the fourth quarter. The Suns are 24-2 this season when leading at halftime, so the final outcome should not have been in any doubt.
The Rockets need to do everything they can to keep pace with the other teams at the top of the Western Conference standings, so this was a huge game the same way every game they play the remainder of the regular season will be for a team jockeying for playoff position. The Suns are trying to hold off the New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder for that eighth and final playoff slot in the West, making each and every lost opportunity a potential dagger down the road.
Harden’s hands down, head-to-the-sky individual celebration was done the right way. Act like you’ve been there before (even if, technically, you have not during your NBA career). The Rockets bench showed their leader the appropriate love, but would rather it not be necessary the next time they are up 16 midway through the fourth quarter.
I’m an old school enthusiast in just about every way imaginable. That’s why the iso-NBA leading scorer routine worked for me. Someone better read the scouting report next time, though. We’ll give it three Horrys.