Harden had checked out in the third quarter with only 20 points, and he was in danger of losing his streak of 30-point games. Instead of bowing out and letting that happen, Harden did the improbable and went on a flurry, keeping his streak alive with a three from the left wing for 31 points and only 53 seconds to spare.
Thirty straight 30-point games and a smile on the face of the MVP.
Some people wanted to nitpick and poke at him for chasing history, but sometimes you have to make the history your own, and he did that. If 99-percent of his 30-plus games were organic, why moan and groan over the one percent that wasn’t? I’m all for making your own history.
Unfortunately, the Rockets and James Harden have no viable reason for Harden to continue forcing this 30-point streak to happen, and he’s why:
Hitting 30 games was actually a perfect milestone to stop chasing the streak inorganically. At 24 straight games of 30+ points, only Wilt Chamberlain had a longer streak of such games. However, only he and Harden are the only players to ever to hit the 30-game mark, so Harden can have all this to himself and Wilt.
One slight snag in this reasoning is that Harden extended the streak to 31 games against the Timberwolves on Wednesday, and he’s now tied with Wilt for the second-longest streak in NBA history. If Harden goes for one more game, he owns the second longest streak all to himself. It’s only a slight snag because being tied for second and actual being second is not really a nuance worth hurting yourself over, which brings up the next point – health.
Harden has been an iron man his entire career, but he still deals with the wear and tear of his high usage rating. This past week, it’s seemingly caught up with him. Harden has been dealing with an injury to his left shoulder that was caused by a collision with Steven Adams on February 9. The discomfort he experienced limited him in his routines. Mind you, that’s what he was dealing with as he checked in to the fourth quarter of the Mavericks game. Harden said he checked in to get the win, but you can come to your own conclusions.
Two days later, this happened to him as he came off a screen.
James Harden in agony after running into Dario Saric pic.twitter.com/1ldqxOfl67— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) February 14, 2019
Yes, injuries happen at random. There’s zero guarantee preventative measures can stop them at all. But the truth remains that extending minutes can exacerbate discomfort like Harden was already experiencing and increases the likelihood of getting injured.
Never at one point during the season has there been a moment where Houston could afford to lose Harden.
It may seem like a fevered dream, but if everything goes according to plan, Houston will have all of its stars out on the court after the All-Star break. Clint Capela is reportedly set to return to the lineup on Feb. 21 against the Lakers after being out with a thumb injury since January 13.
This means that the leading assister-shooter duo in the NBA is back for the first time in over a month.
Top Assister-Shooter Duos in the NBA— Kirk Goldsberry (@kirkgoldsberry) February 14, 2019
1. Harden to Capela* 147 FG
2. Westbrook to Adams 127
3. Lillard to Nurkic 126
*Only played 39 of 54 games together pic.twitter.com/0gJ1yMdxRU
This also mean that Harden has to go back to looking to create more rather than looking only to score.
Over the last 15 games, Harden has averaged only 5 assists per game – he also averaged 42.7 points on 45.6-percent shooting, but that’s neither here nor there. With Capela, Chris Paul, and Eric Gordon out for a large portion of that time, Harden had to burden the load on offense and put up more points. Now with everyone poised to return to the court, he has to go back to being the all-around guy.
Not saying that Harden has been reluctant to pass, but that there should be more opportunities now for him not to have to score. And if he’s scoring less because of how well the offense is flowing, then that means there’s more points available for him to force inorganically, and there’s no reason to put that on himself for the streak.
Before you say “ball-hog,” look back at those numbers. 147 field goals for Capela came off of a Harden assist. Harden literally lost 3.7 assists a game with Capela out.
The All-Star Break
Considering where the NBA is in the season, this is all a perfect concoction. Mix in the milestone of 30-plus games and the return of his teammates with the schedule being on the other side All-Star break, and it just makes sense.
It’s the second half (not literally) of the season, and real basketball wouldn’t have been played for over a week when the Rockets finally return to the court. Blame it on the rust or shift of focus, but the pressure to keep the streak alive, if there ever was any, should be gone.
Look at it as a “New Year, New Me” scenario. You’ve added new players over the past month and everyone is back on the floor, so now is the time to focus on jelling the team and getting ready for the playoff run.
I’ll concede and say that I truly don’t want the streak to die. This has been the greatest offensive run I’ve ever seen a player go on, and I would love to see him pass Wilt for second all-time. That being said, it’s best if the streak stays as organic as possible.
If Harden wants to chuck an extra shot or two, or stay in an extra minute in a blowout because he needs one field goal, by all means do it. What it can no longer be, however, is a priority of any kind. The biggest concern now is staying healthy and making sure that everyone is in sync come playoff time.
65 straight games doesn’t seem that far away, though…