Harden's 40 leads Thunder past Phoenix 109-97PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 18: James Harden #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder dunks against the Phoenix Suns on April 18, 2012 at U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)
PHOENIX (AP) James Harden has had his way with Phoenix this season.
Oklahoma City's bearded, superb reserve scored a career-high 40 points, hitting five 3-pointers, and the Thunder dealt Phoenix a blow in its scramble to make the playoffs with a 109-97 victory over the Suns on Wednesday night.
''James obviously had a terrific game,'' Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. ''He had everything going. He had his mid-range, he had his 3 and he had his free throw game on tonight.''
Harden, who starred at nearby Arizona State, made 12 of 17 shots overall and was 11 of 11 from the free throw line in 33 minutes. He said it was a special night with ''family, coaches, friends'' in the stands.
''It was good when you get on a roll like that,'' Harden said. ''We bounced back from a bad loss and a bad second half to get a win.''
The Thunder were beaten by the Clippers in Los Angeles 92-77 on Monday night.
''It was a really really good win,'' Kevin Durant said, ''a really good bounce-back win for us and against a team that's trying to get every win to get into the playoffs.''
Harden also scored 30 points against the Suns on March 7. His previous high was 33 against Charlotte on March 10.
''He was feeling it tonight,'' the Suns' Steve Nash said. ''I feel like we weren't tough enough on him. We were just a little soft. On pick and roll coverage he was getting loose, and when he's feeling it, he can make you pay in different ways.''
Durant added 29 points and Russell Westbrook 15 for the Thunder, who stayed a half-game behind San Antonio for the top playoff seed in the Western Conference.
Phoenix's loss, coupled with Utah's victory over Portland, moved the Jazz a half-game ahead of the Suns for the West's eighth and final playoff spot.
Jared Dudley scored 21 points for Phoenix.
Channing Frye scored 13 for the Suns. Nash added 12 points but just five assists. Phoenix center Marcin Gortat was just 2 of 13 shooting, the majority of the misses on layups after passes from Nash, for nine points.
The Suns jumped out to a 19-6 lead and were up 25-13 after Dudley's inside basket with 4:18 left in the first quarter. But Phoenix never scored again in the period as the Thunder reeled off 16 in a row, 10 by Harden, to take a 29-25 lead after one.
The game stayed close until a 13-2 run gave the Thunder a 50-41 lead on Kendrick Perkins' dunk. The Thunder led 52-45 at the break.
Oklahoma City led throughout the third quarter, but never by more than seven.
Nash drew a technical while complaining about the lack of a kicked ball call, then coach Alvin Gentry was whistled for one for arguing about the Nash technical. Durant made both free throws, then Harden made a pair at the line to put Oklahoma City up 73-67 with 3:07 left in the third. Derek Fisher's 21-footer at the buzzer gave the Thunder an 81-77 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Oklahoma City outscored the Suns 7-2 to start the final quarter to take an 89-79 lead. His fifth 3-pointer of the night made it 101-86 with 7:11 to go.
Notes: John MacLeod, who holds the Suns' franchise records for victories and tenure as coach, was inducted to the team's ''Ring of Honor'' at halftime. MacLeod's Suns 579-543 from 1973 to midway through the 1986-87 season. His 1975-76 team reached the NBA Finals, losing in six games to the Boston Celtics in a series that included a triple-overtime defeat considered one of the greatest games in league history. ... After returning for two games following a medical procedure to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee, Phoenix's Grant Hill sat out his second game in a row to give the knee more time to heal. ... The Thunder play at Sacramento on Friday, then meet the Lakers in Los Angeles on Sunday before closing the regular season with home games against Sacramento and Denver. ... Three of Phoenix's final four games are at home, beginning Thursday night against the Los Angeles Clippers.