Rockets 123, Sixers 118 - Harden Makes History in Philly

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The Houston Rockets got back on the winning track on Friday by beating the red-hot Philadelphia 76ers (123-118) on the strength of James Harden's historic game. After dropping six of the last nine games, the Rockets needed a huge performance from Harden - and boy, did they get one.

This game opened with an absolute BANG from Joel Embiid, who put 34-year-old Nene on a poster and threatened to send him into early retirement.

Despite this dunk igniting an already raucous Philly crowd, the Rockets went on to an early double-digit lead (18-9) amidst a 10-2 run. Houston hit eight of its first 12 shot attempts, including three of six from the three-point line. Nene even responded well to that soul-sucking dunk with 11 first-quarter points. Philadelphia made a late surge to close the gap, 31-28, by the end of the period.

The first half was a microcosm of the Rockets struggles over the last ten games as turnovers and extremely poor defense took center stage. By halftime, Houston had committed a staggering 16 turnovers (they average 15.5 per game on the season) and allowed the Sixers to shoot 60% from the field. Luckily, the Rockets aren’t exactly playing the best team in the NBA (although, they are the hottest), so the Sixers could not capitalize – committing 13 turnovers of their own and allowing the Rockets to also shoot 60%. The score was tied at 61 going into halftime, following a late three from Harden (his third of the game).

The Rockets opened up the second half on a 12-0 run and the Sixers fans in the Wells Fargo Center rained boos down on the officiating crew after a pair of fouls on Harden beyond the three-point line. Harden has frustrated opposing fan bases by drawing fouls all season, but if you reach on the perimeter, he will teach. Not only will Harden draw fouls, but he can also do this from time to time…

‘The Beard’ was sensational in the third period, scoring 19 points and dishing five assists – bringing his totals to 34 points and 12 assists; he was also only one rebound away from a triple-double, which he would notch in the fourth. The Rockets only had four turnovers in the period, giving Houston a 94-82 lead heading into the fourth.

Joel Embiid went on a personal 8-0 run to start the fourth quarter, hitting two threes in the – ahem – process and cutting the lead down to just four points. Furious, Mike D’Antoni called a timeout and the Rockets responded with a 6-0 run to regain a double-digit lead. Houston’s second unit doesn’t have any good playmaking options with Eric Gordon out (missing his second straight game a tight lower back), so Philly managed to score five unanswered points. This prompted D’Antoni to bring Harden back into the game a few minutes earlier than the normal fourth quarter rotation calls for. Naturally, Harden scored back-to-back buckets and gave the Rockets a 104-95 lead with 7:44 left in the game.

Philly kept the game close for a few minutes, but James Harden is just too much to handle. He went on a personal 5-0 run and hit Dekker with a pass in the paint that led to a foul and another double-digit lead with just two minutes left. It looked like things were wrapping up in this game, but Philly cut the lead down to five after Nik Stauskas hit a tough reverse layup. This was only possible after the Rockets failed to box out on a free throw and Philly recovered the ball.

Following a timeout the Rockets inbounded the ball, which led to a bad possession that ended in a contested missed three by Patrick Beverley. The Sixers blanketed Harden on that possession, hauled in the rebound and gave the ball to their star player. Embiid stepped beyond the three-point line and was blocked by Nene. Trevor Ariza recovered and was sent to the free throw line with roughly 15 seconds left. Annoyingly, Ryan Anderson fouled Embiid on a three-point attempt and he hit all three to cut the lead to 119-115. The game was essentially over after Harden hit two free throws and Stauskas missed a three-point attempt. However, Harden got the rebound and was fouled, which meant his quest for 50 points wasn’t over. He drained both free throws, gave himself 51 points and the Rockets a too-close-for-comfort victory in Philadelphia.

James Harden's fingerprints were obviously all over this game, but he had some major help from Nene and Clint Capela, who scored 21 and 17 points, respectively. Aside from Corey Brewer (who went scoreless), no other Rocket who saw time scored less than seven points. Still, the Rockets desperately miss a healthy Eric Gordon.

The Rockets next head to Indiana to play Paul George and the Pacers on Sunday.

Game Ball

This is a segment of the game recaps that will give the proverbial game ball to a player that proved to be most valuable to the Rockets on a given night. This award won’t necessarily go to the player that puts up the best numbers, but to the player that made the greatest impact on the team – tangible or intangible.

Friday’s game ball goes to James Harden.

There isn’t much else to say about Harden’s performance tonight. He posted an insane stat line (51 points, 13 points, 13 rebounds) and became the first player in NBA history to record multiple 50-point triple doubles in the same season. What does need to be emphasized about this performance, however, is just how efficient he was. His 51 points came on 57.1% shooting from the field (16/28), including 54.5% shooting from three (6/11), and 92.9% from the free throw line (13/14). He also managed to only commit five of Houston’s 23 turnovers.

This performance was just what the Rockets needed from Harden to right the ship after the way 2017 started and will, hopefully, be seen by his teammates as leadership by example. The team needs to shore up its defense and lessen the turnovers if they want to get back to the 60-win pace they set before the New Year kicked in.


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