The Beard was unbelievable. In 37 minutes he went for 61 points on 19-34 shooting, 9-13 from three, 14-17 from the line, 7 rebounds, 3 steals and just 3 turnovers.
In the first quarter he propelled Houston to an early lead by outscoring the Spurs 27-24 in the first quarter. The quarter ended with a 35-24 lead for the Rockets.
Houston’s lead grew to almost 20 early in the third quarter when the Rockets disappointingly gave it all back. The fourth quarter started tied at 81 with Harden rising from the bench down two with 8 minutes to play.
With four minutes to play Harden ignited. He went on a 13-0 run. That’s right. He hit three consecutive threes, one from 32 feet (!), then added two more buckets without the Spurs notching a single point.
Harden was a supernova. Just a few nights after going for 57 too. This man looks like he wants another MVP trophy and he’ll need statements games like this one to get it.
Before The Beard came along, there were eight 50-point performances in #Rockets team history. Harden now has eight 50-point performances in just this season alone.— StatMuse (@statmuse) March 23, 2019
There is a downside to this game. Harden had to do this for the Rockets to win. He ended the game with only a single assist, but it’s what had to be done.
While The Beard shot 55.8% from the field his teammates mustered a lowly 32.6% from the field. The Rockets bench tallied just 13 total points from Danuel House, Nene, Gerald Green, and Iman Shumpert.
P.J. Tucker didn’t score in 37 minutes on just three shots and didn’t look himself on either end until the fourth quarter. In the third a collision had both DeMarr DeRozan and Nene step on Tucker’s foot and he had to visit the locker room. He returned in the fourth quarter like a prize fighter awoken by a punch in the final round.
Tucker played lockdown defense in the final four minutes including a huge block, which wiped away the lack of scoring.
Similarly Chris Paul had difficulty doing anything with the second unit. When Harden sat the team died. Paul was a concerning -10 plus/minus until sharing the court with James Harden’s fourth quarter heroics. If that continues it has serious implications for the playoffs. We’ve seen Rockets teams fail in the playoffs because defenses overload Harden or fatigue sets in. Paul has to be a buffer against either scenario.
Let’s go back to the bench though... It will be interesting to see what comments come from the Rockets about their rotation after the game. Neither Austin Rivers or Kenneth Faried played in this game, both were healthy.
Faried’s absence can be justified. The Spurs went small with Aldridge or Poeltl at center surrounding by three guards. Manimal is a defensive liability and really doesn’t make sense against Bertans at power forward. But what about Rivers...
Rockets fans silently hope Rivers was benched a game for praising Steph Curry on a recent podcast. But in reality his defense has been an asset to the team since joining and it’s strange he didn’t play at all this evening.
Harden showed up when Houston needed him the most. Hopefully U.S. Soccer wunderkind Christian Pulisic was taking notes. He was in the stands and took the Rockets first shot for charity.