James Harden came out of the gates dishing and finished the game by scoring in what was his most complete performance of year, scoring 43 points to go along with 13 assists and 6 rebounds in leading the Rockets to a 116-110 see-saw victory against the Sacramento Kings.
The Rockets were playing without Dwight Howard, Patrick Beverley, Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas, so Harden came out in the first period looking to get his other teammates involved. He was confident and in complete control of the offense as the primary ball handler over Ty Lawson, and the Rockets sprung out to a quick 15-point lead behind 5 Harden assists and 3 three-pointers by Marcus Thornton.
Moving into the second period, in what was a recurring theme all night, the Rockets got sloppy, turning the ball over 12 times in the first half and allowing the Sacramento reserves to battle all the way back to go up by 2, before the Rockets regained their composure behind Harden, Thornton and Clint Capela to regain the lead 61-50 at the half.
The Rockets came out hot again in the third quarter, as Trevor Ariza and Lawson drained multiple threes to put Houston up by 20.
But when Capela went to the bench with 4 fouls, the Rockets were forced to rely on newly signed Chuck Hayes and rookie Montrezl Harrell underneath, and the Kings took advantage of the lack of rim protection to close the third period on an 11-0 run and stretched the run to 16-0 spanning the start of the fourth to get within two points.
But Harden, Ariza and Thornton stepped up in the clutch later in the fourth, with all three players hitting shots from downtown to finally finish off a fiesty Sacramento squad.
In addition to his juicy counting stats, Harden also shot 13-23 from the field, 4-10 from downtown and 13-16 from the stripe. Ariza pitched in 18 points, 8 rebounds and 2 steals while canning 4 threes, and Thornton had 16 points and 7 rebounds and also drained 4 triples.
Clint Capela had a strong game underneath in Howard's absence, putting in 13 points to go along with 12 rebounds and 4 blocks, and the Rockets were at their best when Capela and his rim protection and pick and roll ability were on the floor.
The Rockets also got 13 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists from Lawson, as all five Rockets starters finished in double figures.
Houston showed resilience tonight in the face of multiple injuries and several strong runs by Sacramento, and it was refreshing to see the Beard we all know and love finally make a long-overdue appearance.
The California back-to-back continues tomorrow night in Los Angeles versus the Clippers, and Howard will be playing as the Rockets attempt to get over .500 for the first time this season.