Houston Rockets: James Harden’s 15 most captivating performances
13. December 17, 2018
Line: 47 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals, 4-12 3-pointers, 15-16 free throws
In the 2018 NBA playoffs, the Houston Rockets beat the Utah Jazz in five games in the Western Conference Semifinals, but James Harden had to fight for every point. The combination of Dante Exum guarding him on the perimeter and Rudy Gobert defending the rim made every possession a grind.
Fast forward to December 2018 and Harden was suddenly unafraid of the Jazz defense, and in their mid-December matchup, he attacked the rim relentlessly. When Gobert was there Harden would lean into the contact and still finish; when Gobert was not Harden abused his replacement and got easy layups.
His rim attacks opened up outside shots later in the game and Harden hit a few 3-pointers late.
They were especially important as the Rockets were unable to gain distance on the Jazz, with the cast around him outside of P.J. Tucker struggling. After hitting a deep 3-pointer to break a 94-94 tie, Harden had the ball again up three with Ricky Rubio defending him. Five slick steps later and Harden drew the foul.
A few seconds later Harden iced the game with his final 3-pointer to secure the 102-99 win, but the signature play was the non-travel. It dominated conversation in the following days, not only because it looked illegal but because it looked so natural. It was emblematic of Harden making the stepback 3-pointer his signature move.
If imitation is the highest form of flattery, Harden should feel well-loved by Stephen Curry and his homage later in the season.
For all of the jokes and flattery, it was a crucial play in a tight game against a team the Rockets would be jockeying with for playoff positioning all season. Kudos to Harden not just for a standout performance, but for taking every advantage he could in securing the win.
Next: May 25, 2015