Was anyone from the Thunder watching the Houston Rockets beat the Detroit Pistons last night? Not just the 105-96 win, but the way James Harden turned from a sixth player and a third scoring option into the man for a team and produced accordingly in one of the most successful debuts a traded player has ever had.
How good? Harden played 44 minutes, starting next to Jeremy Lin, and finished with 37 points (14-25 from the field, 4-10 from beyond the arc), 6 rebounds and 12 assists. It was pick n’ roll after pick n’ roll that tore up the Pistons’ defense, as Harden and Delfino kept finding themselves wide open for three point shots. Delfino came off the bench to hit 5 from the outside and finish with 15 points.
The arrival of Harden stole a bit from the Jeremy Lin thunder, but that was probably fine with Lin, who now has “fear the beard” insanity right next to his own Linsanity. Harden is actually a player with the qualities to back that up. They shared the backcourt very well, with no one ballhogging or trying to take over the other’s role. Jeremy Lin is the point guard, but the ball is going to be in Harden’s hands just as much, while Harden probably spends more time on the floor.
With two new players at the guard positions, McHale decided he’ll keep it as simple as possible. I thought it was a challenge for James to kind of figure out what we were doing. We put some plays in that he was comfortable with that they ran at Oklahoma City.
James Harden: I just tried to score and create opportunities. Carlos Delfino came in hot. I just tried to get my bigs involved. A lot of different guys stepped up, and I think that’s how it’s going to be throughout this entire season.
Harden became just 5th different player in NBA history with 35 points and 10 assists in a season opener, joining Sam Cassell, Isiah Thomas, Hal Greer and Oscar Robertson. His offensive output was the second best scoring production for a player making his debut with a new team, following Kiki Vandeweghe’s 47 points for the 1984 Trail Blazers. The biggest number and most promising for the future for the Rockets after signing Harden to the $80 million extension he wanted so badly was the team’s numbers with him and Lin together.
The Rockets outscored the Pistons by 23 points in the 35 minutes James Harden and Jeremy Lin played together. It means that Toney Douglas, one of the more up and down players you’ll come across, needs to do a better job when he plays his 10-15 minutes behind one of them each night. The Rockets also have a solid front line. Not the best in the NBA, but good in rebounding and one that gives Harden and Lin plenty of options to work with. They outrebounded Detroit 45-36.
Hardships and worse times will come. Things just don’t turn over that smoothly, and frankly, James Harden isn’t that good of a player to have perfect nights like these three times a week. But he’s in a good place. A team on the rise and much more responsibility. Treated like a star, and getting paid like one.