Saving career-highs for statement games isn’t a bad idea. James Harden didn’t do it alone, enjoying a big night from his backcourt partner Jeremy Lin, but he finally led the Houston Rockets to a win over his former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and his former teammates/friends, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
After losing quite harshly in the previous two games against the Thunder, the relatively good form the Rockets are in, which is due to the slight tweaking of their offense over the past month, was a reason they managed to outscore probably the most talented offensive team in the NBA. James Harden needed a big night to carry the Rockets, so he brought out his best – he scored 46 points on a nearly perfect kind of game – He was 14-19 from the field, including an incredible 7-8 from beyond the arc, also making 11-12 from the line while bringing down 8 rebounds and adding 6 assists.
Like most of the NBA, the Thunder struggled to figure out how to stop James Harden in isolation, with Kendrick Perkins (not playing, still not traded away) and Serge Ibaka not providing the kind of aerial sport and body in the paint you expect from them against penetrating guards. Harden averaged an amazing 2.11 points per play, including 19 points on isolation. Unstoppable wasn’t enough to describe how focused and “in-the-zone” he was.
I just told the guys on the court that we’ve got to do whatever it takes, we’ve got to get some stops together and make some shots. It’s not going to be easy, they’re a very good team. But we got some stops at the right time and guys made good shots.
As always, Kevin McHale was only talking about how great it is to have someone like Harden on his team – He’s a phenomenal offensive force. He can drive it. He’s got the ability to shoot it … to beat you off the bounce. I think he’s almost unguardable off the catch.
But as we’ve mentioned, he wasn’t alone. Jeremy Lin had his second best scoring performance of the season, helping out with 29 points and 8 assists, enjoying a lot of space and freedom the Thunder allowed, focusing at some point (to no avail) on stopping James Harden. Lin was 12-22 from the field, and the Thunder’s spacing allowed them to keep on shooting from beyond the arc, hitting 15-33, with Carlos Delfino stepping in the lineup for the traded Marcus Morris.
Kevin Durant had a triple double (16 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists), but the Thunder needed more from him on both ends of the floor. Russell Westbrook wasn’t far from a triple double himself, scoring 28 points, adding 10 rebounds and 8 assists, but as usual, some of the crucial moments of the game had him doing his usual shot selection shtick. Thabo Sefolosha surprised with 28 points of his own, but that wasn’t enough in a 122-119 loss, the Thunder’s 15th of the season and third in a row.
The Rockets are going to look slightly different till the end of the season – Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich and Toney Douglas got traded to Sacramento; Marcus Morris to Phoenix. In return, they get Thomas Robinson, Francisco Garcia and Tyler Honeycutt and a draft pick from the Suns. While those trade do change the way the Rockets are built, the premise remains the same – give the ball to James Harden, and hope for the best. Against arguably the best team in the West, it worked to perfection.