In every player’s MVP season, they all have “Heisman Moments” - or, in this case, “MVP Moments.” These are moments you can look back on and say, “Here is where they stepped up when the team needed them to.” Moments are not what makes an MVP, you have to do much more work than just the glorifying highlights or box scores, but... MVPs make MVP moments.
Here are James Harden’s best MVP moments for the 2018-2019 season (in no particular order).
Throughout the course of the year, the 50 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists that Harden racked up that night somehow fell to the wayside. Maybe because of the greatness of the rest of the season? Maybe because it happened so early on? But it came at a crucial time where Houston struggled to string together a series of wins, and Harden made sure that they came out on top. Fun fact: this was the game that started the 30-point streak. It was also the game that Harden went and did this:
47 Points and a Dagger
It’s hard to believe, but only four days and two games later, Harden had to have another triumphant performance in Houston for the Rockets to get a win. It wasn’t a triple-double, but the league’s second-best steals leader had five steals that game. It was this game that he had the infamous *alleged* travel on a step-back that led to a Ricky Rubio fouls and three free throws in the clutch. Funny enough, there were no complaints on this play - a dagger in winning time.
BEARD DAGGER.— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 18, 2018
47 points for Harden tonight pic.twitter.com/Wws7UVO4yf
Double Double-Nickle Games
On Jan. 16, James Harden joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history with back-to-back 55+ point games. This was was part of the most insane stretch of games for any player this season. In five games, Harden scored 57, 58, 48, 37, and 61 points. Not coincidentally, the 14th was the first time Clint Capela went down with his thumb injury, and Harden was playing with neither Capela or Paul. Even more insane was that none of his shots over this two-game stretch were assisted on.
Jamal Murray: Innocent Bystander
Arguably the single greatest move put on anyone this season. Poor Jamal Murray was down ON ALL FOURS. Even worse, he gets up just in time to foul Harden on the jumper for the four-point shot. Now, how does this relate to MVP moments, you ask? It’s a testament to his unguardability and playing like one of the best players in this NBA. Think of it how you associate his 2018 MVP with that Wesley Johnson play.
Over Two Defenders in The Garden
James Harden. DAGGER to the back pic.twitter.com/BMueY6GIIV— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) March 3, 2019
Unguardable. Unguardable. Unguardable.
This might not be as exciting as the Murray crossover, but it has all the makings of Harden’s game. One-on-one, winning time, Harden hits his step-back with incredible form, rises up over TWO defenders, and absolutely nets the ball. You’d be hard pressed to find a better play that defines his season. Oh, this game, he had 42 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals, and the win in Boston.
61 in MSG
It’s a really weird feeling when you’re starting to feel like you’re over-saturating great moments, but Harden had so many incredible games. You know that in Giannis Antetokounmpo’s season highlight reel, they’re going to include his 50-point game. Well, that’s what I’m doing with Harden. He just so happened to have eight of them.
Against the Knicks in New York, Harden put up 61 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 steals in a game that came down to the final seconds. Harden tied his career-high of 61, and he tied Kobe Bryant’s record of most points scored by a visitor at MSG. Up 112-110 with 9.8 seconds left, Harden got the steal on the turnover forced by Eric Gordon, went coast-to-coast, and capped off his 61 with a dunk and the win.
Second Round of Double Double-Nickels
Answer me this please, which is more insane: That Harden dropped 57 points exactly twice against the Grizzlies this season, or that he’s the only player to have two pairs of back-to-back 55+-point games in a season? Not to mention that he did them over two months apart. That’s consistent dominance.
Both these games are insane for the same reason: Harden went Thanos-mode in clutch time. With 6:40 left in the game against Memphis, down 104-90, James Harden hit a three-pointer to give him 32 points on the night. 32 POINTS! Harden had 28 points in the final six minutes and all of OT combined. It came in a tough one-point loss (including a tough call against Capela at the end), but it shows the influence Harden has on a game.
Another similar situation against San Antonio. The Spurs came back after a huge deficit, got a four-point lead with 6:15 left in the season, and then Harden happens. 16 of Houston’s 20 points in the final 6:15 of the game were scored by Harden. That’s just insane.
Unstoppable in the Bay
The Alpha and Omega. I don’t care for 61 points. I don’t care for double-nickels. I don’t care for crossovers. This is it. This is the masterpiece. This is a player possessed.
44 point, 10 rebounds, 15 assists. No Chris Paul and against a fully healthy Golden State Warriors in Oracle. Even beyond that of the game-winner that we know is going to happen, Harden plays so clutch in the fourth quarter and in OT to lead up to the dagger. With 45 seconds left, down by three, Harden drains a deep shot with Kevin Durant guarding him. Then, in overtime, with just a few seconds left, the refs somehow missed the Durant out-of-bounds call that resulted in the Warriors getting the lead. In hindsight, all it did was make this next moment more iconic.
This is the moment you dream of. 5.5 seconds left, down by 2, on the road - MVP is gonna MVP.
Literally chills crawling down my spine every time that I watch this play.
It doesn’t matter that there are two of the Warriors’ best defenders on him. It doesn’t matter that the Rockets were just cheated of an obvious call. It doesn’t matter that Draymond Green fouled Harden. None of that matters.
Lastly, there’s the streak.
Without this streak, there’s no MVP talks; there’s no possible homecourt advantage in the playoffs; there’s no playoffs.
Only Wilt Chamberlain is ahead of Harden with more 30-point game in a row. Two games before the streak started, the Rockets were 11-14. From Dec. 13 until Feb. 21, Harden and the Rockets went 21-11 on the back on his incredible stretch of 41.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.4 assists, and 2.2 steals a game. You can read more about that stretch’s prominence here.
It can be hard to justify a stretch of games that spans nearly 40 percent of the season, but it’s easily the most talked-about and memorable part of the season - and one that defined the Rockets’ success. No matter what happens come award season, this historic streak will stand the test of time.