What a decade it has been for the Houston Rockets. A 10-year span that began full of uncertainties following the departure of Tracy McGrady and the sudden retirement of Yao Ming; ended as one of the most successful and remarkable runs in franchise history. And at the helm of all the Rockets’ ups and downs throughout the decade has been one, James Harden.
Since joining the ball club via trade during the summer of 2012, Harden has defined this decade of Rockets basketball similar to the way Hakeem Olajuwon shaped the 1990s. Throughout the 2010s, Harden established himself as one of the greatest offensive players in league history and is undoubtedly the best shooting guard of his generation.
A five-time member of the All-NBA First Team. A two-time scoring champion. A seven-time All-Star. And an MVP winner in 2018. The only goal left for Harden to accomplish is to capture an NBA title, something he could very well achieve.
As he enters a new decade in the middle of his prime, Harden will continue to normalize the epitome of basketball, but it is going to be a tough task to duplicate or surpass the moments he will leave behind in the 2010s.
The debut of James Harden as a Rocket:
If it was not for a lousy business decision over $4 million, the 2010s for the Rockets would be remarkably different. Just three days before the start of the 2012-13 season, Daryl Morey orchestrated the most important trade in franchise history to acquire Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
He came over in a deal after failing to come to terms on a new contract extension, despite establishing himself as a future star by winning Sixth Man of the Year and helping the Thunder reach the NBA Finals four months prior. Yet, as the old saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” it was clear that the Rockets found their franchise cornerstone in a historic debut inside The Palace of Auburn Hills in Detroit.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Rockets trailed 83-72 when Harden scored on a 3-point field goal to bring Houston within eight. Two possessions later, he stole a cross-court pass from Will Bynum which led to an easy dunk attempt for Greg Smith.
By the end of the final buzzer, the Rockets outscored Detroit 33-15 in the fourth quarter to steal a 105-96 victory over the Pistons. Houston’s season began with a great come-from-behind victory, and Harden’s performance was a prophecy of what was in store for the Rockets.
He scored a game-high 37 points (14-25 FG, 4-10 3PT) to go along with a then-career-high 12 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 steals and 1 block. His debut performance put him in a league of his own, as Harden became the first player in NBA history to record a 30-point double-double in a debut.
50-point triple-double vs. Lakers (Harden’s 30-for-32 part I):
When it comes to naming the Mount Rushmore of the NBA’s greatest scorers, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant have their faces engraved for a lifetime. The fourth and final place on the mountain is debatable in favor of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird or Kevin Durant.
While the remaining three have a solid case to fill in the vacant spot, Harden has forced his way into the debate. Although he may not hold the title of best player, Harden is unquestionably the greatest scorer of the 2010s — a statement he made true after a streak of scoring 30 or more points in 32 consecutive games.
While leading the Rockets to a 21-11 record during the streak, Harden scored 50 or more points four times, which included a career-high 61 points (17-38 FG, 5-20 3PT, 22-25 FT) in a 114-110 victory over the New York Knicks.
His most crucial game of the 30-for-32 run took place on the first night in a 126-111 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. With the Rockets in desperate need of a win standing below .500 on the season, Harden recorded a game-high 50 points (11 coming in the 4th quarter) to go along with 11 assists and 10 rebounds — which marked the fourth 50-point triple-double of his career.
Harden’s performance against the Lakers would have been the most celebrated moment of the streak, if not for what took place just three weeks later.
MVP two-times vs. Warriors (Harden’s 30-for-32 part II):
His most memorable game of the 30-for-32 run took place during a 135-134 double-overtime victory over the Golden State Warriors. After trailing by 23 points at the half, Harden led the Rockets to an extraordinary comeback with 44 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds inside the Oracle Arena.
Although it was his fifth straight 40-point performance and his second triple-double of the week, this game became remembered for what could be Harden’s signature moment of his career. With 2.7 seconds remaining, Harden scored an improbable 3-point field goal over the top of Draymond Green and Klay Thompson before falling to the floor on the game-winner.
While the shot came during a regular season contest, Harden’s game-winner gave the Rockets and its fans much validation after enduring years of heartaches at the hands of the Warriors.
If it was not for Golden State’s dynasty, James Harden and the Rockets might have ended this decade with a championship title. The Warriors eliminated the Rockets in four of the last five postseasons, two coming during the Western Conference Finals.
60-point triple double vs. the Magic:
In the words of Zach Harper of The Athletic, “James Harden broke statistics.” For his career, Harden has recorded a total of 45 triple-doubles, which includes 42 since joining the Rockets in 2012.
The owner of four 50-point triple-doubles and eight 40-point triples, it is extremely mind-boggling to know that Harden also has one stats line so absurd, it is in consideration as one of the greatest individual performances in league history.
On a chilly January night inside the Toyota Center in Houston, Harden notched the first 60-point triple-double in NBA history during a 114–107 win over the Orlando Magic. His stat line for the night: 60 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds while shooting 63% from the floor, 94% from the charity stripe.
James Harden captures his first career MVP award:
On record, James Harden has only one MVP credited to his name, but one can argue he could easily have won an additional two (some say three) this decade. Since helping the Rockets establish themselves as serious contenders in 2015, Harden has placed second in MVP voting in three of the past five seasons. However, the single MVP award he captured in 2018 will go down as his top moment of the decade.
While helping the Rockets come one game short of reaching the NBA Finals, Harden had a stellar 2018 campaign averaging a league-best 30.4 points, 8.8 assists and 5.4 rebounds, as the Rockets recorded a franchise-best 65-17 record.
As he became the third player in franchise history to win the award (Moses Malone & Hakeem Olajuwon), it was Harden’s moment to shine as the best player on the plant. As he stood there next to his mother taking in the MVP moment, for the first and perhaps only time in his luxurious career, no one could slander or deny the greatness of James Harden.