James Harden sees your March Madness and raises you 61 points.
On a night when the average basketball fan spent time gushing over Zion Williamson’s steal-to-fastbreak-to-behind-the-back-to-oh-no-he’s-tripping-to-just-kidding-he’s-scoring, Harden was reminding the basketball-verse why his games are so frequently played on national television.
Scoring 61 points isn’t an everyday accomplishment. In fact, NBA players have only scored 60 or more points on 68 occasions, nearly half of which belong to Wilt Chamberlain.
But tying his career-high was just one part of the story. The rest of this novella is penned by the San Antonio Spurs, who were the victims of Harden’s offensive outburst.
Embodying the stone-cold spirit of their coach, Gregg Popovich, the Spurs were tied with the Rockets through three quarters of play. Sure, Harden had scored 46 points with 12 minutes to spare, but San Antonio had prohibited the rest of his teammates from takeoff.
Unfortunately for San Antonio, the valiant effort to stifle everyone but Harden backfired, as the MVP Candidate scored 14-straight points in the final five-minutes of play to lift Houston to victory.
Let me be clear: San Antonio played the Rockets about as well as any team could hope. Chris Paul was limited to an inconsequential 18 points and five assists while the rest of Houston notched just five 3s on the night. By contrast, the Spurs had five players in double-digit scoring and recorded 27 assists. At no point were they forced to play hero ball behind LaMarcus Aldridge or DeMar DeRozan.
For as good as the Spurs played in what analysts will certainly dub a “playoff atmosphere,” Harden proved the one-man wrecking crew is still a viable option in the NBA. His attempting as many free throws as the Spurs (17) surely helped fuel the fight, but the true beauty behind the madness remains Harden’s unshakeable attitude amid his teammates’ shortcomings.
Eric Gordon bonked a pair of 3s in the fourth quarter. They were the kind of 3s he’s used to making: quick, no-dribble pullups from the right side. Gordon’s misses, one of which came at the end of a Harden pass, might have deflated the crowd, but they didn’t stop No. 13 from changing his game plan. Harden willed his team to success as nonchalantly as he has all season. He makes a seemingly unmakeable shot, saunters back on defense, and gets ready to start the cycle again on the next possession.
With NBA stars appearing to increase in fragility—look no further than case studies about Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, the Warriors, need I name more?—Harden is unwavering. The Rockets aren’t oozing NBA Finals pedigree outright, but Harden’s majesty is keeping Houston on the shortlist of teams to beat.