March 2, 2016, marked the last time Eric Gordon and James Harden shared the court as competitors. The Houston Rockets took a 100-95 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, with Harden leading the way with 39 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 steals in the win. Gordon, who connected on four out of his nine shot attempts from behind the arc, scored 14 points in the loss inside the Toyota Center.
Gordon and Harden embraced each other following the game before departing to their respective locker rooms. But four months later, the two opponents became colleagues of the same abode after Gordon signed a four-year, $53 million deal to join Harden and the Rockets in July.
Over the next five seasons, Gordon and Harden would take the floor as teammates to create one of the NBA’s most fierce scoring duos, while catapulting the Rockets into championship contention.
On Wednesday, for the first time this season, Gordon and Harden will step onto the hardwood floor together when the Rockets put their six-game win streak on the line against the 17-7 Brooklyn Nets. But instead of playing alongside each other in hopes of extending Houston’s win streak, Harden will retrieve his role as Gordon’s on-court foe.
“It has been a while, and it will definitely be fun. I am looking forward to the match-up. We want to win, and we know it’s going to be a competitive game. Although we are treating it as just another game — it’s going to be a fun one for sure.” — Gordon
The pair of former teammates have faced each other a dozen times in regular-season meetings — with Harden getting the best of Gordon with an 8-4 record.
Harden has scored 30 or more points against Gordon three times while averaging 22.0 points per game. Gordon has done a modest job defending Harden in the past, but the 2018 league MVP winner has enhanced his game since the last time the two played against each other in 2016.
But lucky for Gordon, he witnessed Harden’s evolution over the previous years to develop a blueprint on how to slow the three-time scoring champion down.
“I know what he does, and I’ve been around him long enough. Good players are always going to be hard to stop. The way I play defense, if they are going to score a lot of points, they have to take a lot of shots. I like to make guys shoot low percentages, and that’s my game plan.” — Gordon
Following the trade that sent Harden to Brooklyn in January, Gordon wasn’t able to play in the Rockets’ two-game series against the Nets due to a lingering knee injury. The Nets swept the Rockets by an average margin of 15 points during the 2020-21 campaign, but Gordon feels that Houston is more equipped to compete with Brooklyn this time around.
Amidst their six-game winning streak. the Rockets have averaged 119.3 points per game, registered the league’s fourth-best offensive rating at 118.0, while connecting on 40.8 percent of their triples on 42.5 attempts
In addition to Gordon, the Rockets will also have a healthy Christian Wood, who missed a game against the Nets last season due to a nagging ankle injury. As the Rockets’ newest MVP candidate — a title Harden held during each of his nine seasons in Houston — Wood has averaged 19.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks during the streak.
“We are much better now, especially offensively. We have to play well on both ends of the floor, and we cannot have too many lapses against them. We have to take advantage if they are not playing well. Against good teams, it’s about making runs when things are not going well for them. We cannot make too many mistakes.” — Gordon
In the five seasons they spent playing as teammates, Gordon and Harden developed a close-knit relationship that went beyond their on-court chemistry.
Perhaps the two friends will take a moment to catch up with each other after the game. But for the 48 minutes they will spend reuniting on the court, Gordon and Harden will do so as foes striving to lead their respective team to a victory — similar to that nippy March night nearly six years ago.
“The dude is a helluva player. He is one of the greatest scorers and playmakers we have ever seen in this game. James and I accomplished a lot together, and of course, we definitely wish we could have won one while he was here. But things are different now.” — Gordon