With 46.3 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the Houston Rockets trailing the hard-charging Phoenix Suns by two points, you'd probably expect Kevin McHale to draw something up for James Harden, the All-Star shooting guard with a penchant for getting to the line, getting to the basket or getting to an open spot on the floor to uncork a potential equalizer. You might also expect that draw-up to feature some high-screening action with Dwight Howard, whom you might have heard does not really suck, especially when it comes to setting picks that give Harden space and put defenders in trail position before rolling hard to the rim for super-high-percentage alley-oop finishes or offensive rebounding opportunities.
As it turns out, you'd be exactly right. (Good eye, you.) While there was a bit of misdirection in the initial design — the Rockets came out in a "Horns" set with power forward Donatas Motiejunas popping up from the right elbow to screen for Harden — the end result was Dwight springing up above the 3-point arc to set a screen on Suns perimeter-defending ace P.J. Tucker that would spring Harden to his left, moving downhill toward the basket. The way it all ended, though, might have come as a bit of a surprise:
After maneuvering around Howard's screen, Harden penetrated the paint, busted out his trusty ol' Eurostep on Phoenix center Channing Frye, getting deep in the lane before elevating. Instead of putting up what would have been a pretty tough right-handed leaner with his momentum heading away from the basket, though, Harden looked to his right and saw that Suns point guard Goran Dragic — who had been sensational, scoring a game-high 35 points, including 19 on 7 for 7 shooting with five 3-pointers in the second quarter to bring Phoenix within hailing distance after a sluggish opening stanza — had sagged a bit too far toward the paint off the ball-side corner, giving Harden just enough room to slip a pass to Patrick Beverley in the right corner.
It's a shot the Rockets point guard has hit a shade under 29 percent of the time this season, according to NBA.com's shot charts, but it's one he confidently stepped into and buried — over a closing-out Dragic, directly in front of the Suns bench — to give Houston a 111-110 lead with 34.2 seconds left. On the ensuing possession, Beverley pulled down the rebound after a missed Gerald Green jumper, shook off a rough foul from Suns big man Markieff Morris, and stepped to the line to knock down two freebies to extend the lead to three.
Dragic would make things tight with a layup that cut the deficit to one with just under 15 seconds remaining, but a pair of Motiejunas restored some breathing room and Dragic's game-tying try went wanting, giving Houston a solid 115-112 road win that represented a strong bounce-back from Thursday's overtime loss to the Golden State Warriors against a tough potential Western Conference playoff opponent. Houston has now won nine of 10, 12 of 15, and 17 of 22 since Jan. 1, and sits in third place in the West, 2 1/2 games behind the second-place San Antonio Spurs and a game up on the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers.
While we might not have expected an iffy shooter and complementary option like Beverley to be the one to pull Houston ahead of Phoenix, it seemed fitting in context. The 25-year-old former D-Leaguer and international stalwart finished Sunday with a career-high 20 points on 6 for 12 shooting to go with three rebounds, three assists and three steals in 33 minutes, providing some needed backcourt punch on a night where neither Harden (23 points, but on 6 for 15 shooting, missing five of his seven 3-pointers) nor Jeremy Lin (two points, 1 for 6 from the floor in 20 minutes) was particularly dynamite on the offensive end. After his triple put Houston ahead for good, his free throws gave him 12 fourth-quarter points, which is the sort of output we tend to associate with one of his more famous colleagues, but an explosion that didn't much surprise his coach or his teammates.
"Patrick's not afraid at all," McHale said, according to Bob Baum of The Associated Press. "He just goes and plays."
“I had confidence in them to go out and make shots and make big plays and they did that tonight,” Harden said. “The more guys have confidence in end of game situations like that, the more guys will step up and get it done." [...]
“I told James before we ran it, “I’m in the corner,’ ” Beverley said. “I saw how they were helping, leaving the corner man, and forcing the shots outside. I saw it before we even ran the play.
“I’ve played in probably the second biggest game in basketball, the Euroleague Championship, fans going crazy, so I’m used to a hostile environment.”
And with that experience under his belt, Beverley took advantage of a little bit of breathing room created by Dragic, in Harden's words, "just falling asleep" to put Phoenix down for the night.
Video via ClutchFans.
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