The Houston Rockets entered Tuesday’s matchup with the Orlando Magic short-handed. No Chris Paul, due to a sore groin. No Trevor Ariza, as he works his way back from a hamstring strain. And, after the early stages of the second quarter, no Eric Gordon, as last year’s Sixth Man of the Year left with lower back stiffness.
And yet: no problem. Because whoever the Rockets didn’t have, they did have James Harden … and holy hell, did James Harden have it going on Tuesday.
Harden absolutely annihilated the visiting Magic, pouring in 60 points — yes, sixty — on 19-for-30 shooting to lead the Rockets to a 114-107 win at Toyota Center. That’s an NBA season high, topping the 57 that LeBron James hung on the Washington Wizards back in November. That’s a new career high for Harden, besting the 56 he served to the Utah Jazz right after James’ explosion.
How did he get there? With a step-back 3 over the outstretched arms of Mario Hezonja, drawing a foul for a four-point play that iced the game, duh:
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) January 31, 2018
Harden’s avalanche also represents a new franchise high for the Rockets, supplanting the 57 that Houston legend Calvin Murphy gave the New Jersey Nets nearly 40 years ago … and Murphy, now a color commentator for Rockets broadcasts on Root Sports, loved watching every last second of Harden taking his throne:
Calvin Murphy loved seeing James Harden break his scoring record pic.twitter.com/fcMwumqgFg
— AP (@Ananth_Pandian) January 31, 2018
— Calvin Murphy (@CalvinMurphyHOF) January 31, 2018
Just ridiculously impressive stuff from the All-Star starter.
OH, WAIT! I almost forgot! Harden also dished 11 assists (accounting for 26 more points) and pulled down 10 rebounds, turning what would be a remarkable 46 1/2 minutes of work in any context into a performance without peer in the history of the NBA:
James Harden has posted the first 60-point triple-double in NBA history. Wow. #Rockets
— Justin Kubatko (@jkubatko) January 31, 2018
Harden also logged four steals and blocked a shot. Y’know, just for posterity’s sake. Decent night.
James Harden had a career-high and franchise record-setting 60 points on 37 shooting possessions, with most of his shots on the right side of the arc and at the rim. He added 10 boards and 11 assists, of which 4 led to 3-pointers and 6 to shots in the restricted area. Glorious. pic.twitter.com/URjXuTfWck
— Positive Residual (@presidual) January 31, 2018
Twice before, Harden has finished second in year-end Most Valuable Player voting, acting as the runner-up to Stephen Curry in 2014-15 and Russell Westbrook last season. This time around, it sure as hell looks like Harden — now averaging a league-leading 31.6 points, 9.1 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game while carrying the offensive load for a team with designs on pushing the Golden State Warriors for Western Conference supremacy — isn’t interested in playing second fiddle to anybody.
We can only hope that some of his fellow luminaries — maybe a now-I-really-have-to-do-everything LeBron, or the surging and transcendent Steph — can crank up the heat with scintillating performances of their own. Because while we don’t necessarily want to see the Rockets playing without three of their top scorers all that often, it’d be pretty freaking great to see Harden feel compelled to try to do something like this again.
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