It’s hard to complain about anything James Harden does when he scored 43 points en route to a 129-103 win for the Houston Rockets over the Sacramento Kings, leaving Jeremy Lin to get his minutes and most of his numbers in the long garbage time of the fourth quarter.
In truth, this was pretty much a garbage time kind of game once the first quarter was over. Harden scored 18 consecutive points to end the first quarter, beginning with Dwight Howard being subbed after banging knees with DeMarcus Cousins. He had 30 by the end of the first half and didn’t have to play a second in the fourth quarter because the Rockets were leading by 25.
Dwight Howard would return to finish with 20 points and 11 rebounds, as the Rockets found it impossible not to score. Harden was succeeding in everything he was doing, finishing with 8 assists and shooting 11-of-20 from the field, while also going to the line 16 times, making 15 shots. He wasn’t exactly Steve Nash out there in terms of looking for others, but things were so easy for him and he touched the ball on every possession during his 31 minutes on the floor, it was hard for him not to pass it along from time to time.
The Kings lost DeMarcus Cousins in the third quarter, picking his 14th and 15th technical fouls this season, the most in the NBA. It’s not that the Kings were any closer to making something of the game while he was on the court as they dysfunctioned their way through the game from the tip off, but it was interesting seeing Harden and Cousins sitting through the entire fourth quarter for completely different reasons.
It was Harden’s fourth 40-plus game of his career. He got 20 of his points through transition, leading the NBA with 7.8 points in transition this season. He became only the third Rockets player in the last 25 years with at least 40 points and 8 assists, joining Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.
Jeremy Lin finished the game with 11 points and 3 assists on 3-of-7 from the field and 5-of-6 from the line. When he hit a layup in the second quarter that made it 50-19 the Arena was filled with boos, maybe the loudest we’ve heard from the Kings’ crowd all season. Sacramento picked things up from that moment to at least seem on par with the Rockets, but there wasn’t really anything special they could do to bring them closer.
One game doesn’t mean anything in the NBA, and watching the process and the direction is more interesting. There’s nothing bad to say about Harden when he scored 43 points, but as we’ve mentioned before this season, it’s fool’s gold. Few teams, if any, will play as badly as the Kings do on defense, especially come playoff time. The last few games have been an indication of what the Rockets are intending for Lin. A sixth man role, but not the kind they think can change games. Their faith is in the Harden-Beverley backcourt duo.
What can you say about it after such an easy win over the Kings? Nothing. Harden has nights like these from time to time, even though his style doesn’t really change. He still takes tough shots; he still travels his way into the paint and collides with bodies, hoping to get a foul or make a shot thanks to his upper body strength. But good defenses don’t make it this easy, or hardly allow it at all. For breaking down the stronger teams, you need an actual point guard, who shares the ball with everyone when things get difficult. These wins only make the Rockets drift further away from that solution.