James Harden's 54 for naught versus Wiz in historic backcourt duel

WASHINGTON -- On one hand, you had Houston Rockets guard James Harden, who was named the NBA's MVP last season behind his lethal combination of 3-point shooting and an uncanny ability to get to the rim.

On the other hand, you had the Washington Wizards duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal, who have raised eyebrows in previous years when boasting of being the NBA's best backcourt.

The meeting of those three on Monday night -- along with Rockets guard Eric Gordon, starting in place of the injured Chris Paul -- proved to be historic.

Harden scored 54 points and Gordon added 36 -- season highs for both players. That combined 90 points is the second most by a starting backcourt on record.

Despite that scoring outburst, it was Washington that escaped with a 135-131 overtime victory behind a season-high 36 points from Wall and a season-high-tying 32 for Beal.

With Wall and Beal totaling 68, the two backcourts combined to score 158 points, the most in NBA history by both teams' starting backcourts.

"You watched a lot of high-level players play at a high level," Washington coach Scott Brooks said. "Amazing players all had great games."

It shattered the previous record of 140 points scored by the starting backcourts of the Portland Trail Blazers and the Toronto Raptors on March 4, 2016. Portland's Damian Lillard's had 50 in that contest, to go along with CJ McCollum's 24 in a 117-115 loss to the Raptors, who got 38 from DeMar DeRozan and 28 from Kyle Lowry.

Both the Houston and Washington backcourts scored with great efficiency -- Harden and Gordon shot a combined 52.7 percent, while Wall and Beal shot 60.9 percent -- in a shootout played to the delight of the fans.

The Wizards, for most of the game, could do little to stop Harden, who was problematic from long range (7 of 15 3-pointers) and attacking the rim (which resulted in his hitting 13-of-15 from the free throw line).

Harden scored 31 of his points after halftime, and he totaled 13 assists.

"I tried to be aggressive with Chris out," Harden said. "At the same time, I tried to get guys involved and get guys in position to score."

In the two straight starts with Paul out, Gordon has had his two best scoring games of the season. His 36 points in a season-high 43 minutes came while hitting 12 of 23 shots from the field, including eight 3-pointers.

The only starting backcourt to score more than the 90 points that Harden and Gordon had on Monday was the Los Angeles Lakers duo of Kobe Bryant and Smush Parker in a game on Jan. 22, 2006. Parker had 13 that night against the Raptors, while Bryant carried the heavy load, scoring a career-high 81.

On Monday, Harden also had a season-high 11 turnovers, three of those coming in overtime, when the Rockets scored just six points and appeared to run out of gas in losing their third straight.

But Houston would have never been in the game without Harden's scoring explosion.

"I study James, so his step-back I have to respect," said Beal, who defended Harden much of the night. "When I'm one-on-one, I know that's what he wants. It's either that or he wants to get a foul. It's kind of fun [playing against him] cause it challenges me."

Brooks could only appreciate the show Harden put on.

"We tried everything on Harden," Brooks said. "We absolutely tried to take it out of his hands early, take it out of it late. Keep our hands out of his shooting pocket. We tried the switch; we tried the show. He was playing at a high, high, high level, and his step-back 3s [were on]."

Harden now has three 50-point games in which his team has lost over the past two seasons. The total number of games lost by the rest of the teams in the NBA with 50-point scorers in that same span: two.