Social distancing: James Harden’s top 10 step back jumpers as a Rocket

Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

James Harden has been practicing social distancing for a long time. Here’s a countdown of the top 10 step backs of The Beard’s Houston Rockets career.

James Harden solidified himself as one of the all-time great offensive players over the past couple of years. While he’s impressed since his first season with the Houston Rockets, his offensive arsenal has only grown with each season.

Throughout Harden’s early seasons in Houston, he was known as a slasher that can also shoot. But as the years went on, Harden kept adding to his game. One of his earliest go-to moves was the famous euro step, which was made popular by another legendary lefty, Manu Ginobili.

In the 2018-19 NBA season, Harden began to use the step back jumper as his go-to move. Defenders know it’s coming but still can’t stop it due to the Harden’s offensive brilliance and ability to dribble the defender to sleep and then catch him by surprise.

Harden has joined names like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant and Hakeem Olajuwon when it comes to having a signature shot. But, unlike the skyhook, one-legged fade-away and Dream Shake, the Harden step back can be used anywhere on the court.

Harden’s list of step back victims grows every season and sometimes by two players at a time, as you’ll see in number 10 on the countdown.

10. Harden Embarrasses Kyrie Irving & Jayson Tatum

March 3, 2019 – In a road game against the Boston Celtics, James Harden gave Kyrie Irving a dose of his own medicine with top-level ball-handling skills. With the Rockets up by nine with fewer than four minutes remaining, Harden used his social distancing skills to create enough space to hit the dagger on both Irving and Jayson Tatum.

Many think Harden got away with a travel. Did he travel? Who knows! Maybe that’s why the referee didn’t make it a four-point play? The one thing we know is Harden’s step back three iced the victory for the Houston Rockets.

Next: No. 9-7

Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

9. “He’s Done it Again!”

May 6th, 2019 – The first of three step backs against the Golden State Warriors on this list is from the 2019 NBA playoffs. Down two games to one, The Beard made it his mission to tie up the series in the Toyota Center.

In the second quarter, Harden drilled a beautiful step back three against a top defender in Klay Thompson. But, this time it was a four-point play. The play ignited the home crowd and propelled the team to an eventual home victory in Game 4 of the 2019 Western Conference Semifinals.

8. Dante Exum Doesn’t Stand a Chance

November 19th, 2016 – In a November matchup with the Utah Jazz, the Rockets were well on the way to a victory, up by eight points with 20 seconds left in the game. With five seconds left on the shot clock, James Harden began to make his move.

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He went on to hit one of the best step backs of his career against Dante Exum, who didn’t stand a chance against the Beard. The crossover step back sent Exum all the way to the free-throw line, allowing Harden to drill the game sealer at home. James Harden called game the Harden way.

7. Harden’s Buzzer Beater Over P.J. Tucker

January 23, 2015 – Before he was hitting corner threes for the Houston Rockets, P.J Tucker was a member of the Phoenix Suns. Tucker had some history against Houston but for all the wrong reasons.

In a close game that went down to the wire, James Harden took it upon himself to end the game. While in isolation against Tucker, Harden drove left and then stepped back to hit the mid-range jumper as the buzzer sounded in Phoenix. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. James Harden actually used to shoot mid-range jump shots.

I wonder if this was ever talked about in the locker room once Tucker signed with Houston in 2017. I’m sure Harden didn’t let him hear the end of it.

Fun fact: This is the only entry on the list that is not a 3-pointer.

Next: No. 6-4

Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

6. The Dagger vs. Steph Curry

January 20, 2018 – Nothing sounds better than hearing the word “BANG” come from Mike Breen. At number six, James Harden would have an MVP moment against the team’s rival and defending champion Golden State Warriors.

After a screen at the top of the arc by P.J Tucker causes Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry to switch, Harden knows what he wants to do. Knowing Curry isn’t a great defender, Harden takes full advantage, showcasing the shake-and-bake step back three at the end of the shot clock.

The dagger against the almighty Warriors helped push the Rockets to a key victory. It was one of many special moments in James Harden’s MVP campaign.

5. Harden Drops Rubio!

February 23, 2015 – In a home matchup with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Harden taught Ricky Rubio a valuable lesson. The repetitive dribbles between the legs to begin this clip must’ve gotten Rubio a little dizzy, which Harden then took full advantage of.

This was one of the first signature step backs from Harden and happened before he permanently equipped the move into his offensive arsenal with regularity.

Unfortunately for Rubio, he was one of the first victims of the Harden step back. Maybe that’s why Rubio began guarding Harden from behind in the playoffs last year. I don’t blame him!

4. Harden’s Game-tying Shot Over KD

January 3, 2019 – Last season, the Rockets and Warriors put on a clinic in what was one of the greatest regular-season games in the past couple of years. James Harden unleashed his clutch genes in a game that went down to the wire.

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Down by three with one minute left and the seven-foot Kevin Durant guarding him, Harden made a move left, planted the right foot, then stepped back and nailed a game-tying three in his former teammate’s face.

That shot made the game go into OT, which led to a spectacular game-winning shot by Harden over both Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. I wish that shot also made this list, but it wasn’t a social distancing step back.

Next: No. 3-1

Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

3. Harden’s Four-point Play over Two Elite Defenders

November 22, 2019Patrick Beverley is known as a loud trash talker, no matter if the game is real-life or NBA 2K. I’m curious about what was going through his mind after this shot. In what should’ve been the dagger of the game, Harden hit a magnificent step back three on two great defenders in Los Angeles.

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The dribble to the left side followed by a between-the-legs step back sent Beverley the opposite way, which was enough time for Harden to get a shot off. The help from Paul George was a great effort, but not great enough.

Even the Los Angeles crowd was stunned. What made it better was Harden pointing out the fallen defenders from the ground. Also, Harden’s “wow” signaled how great the moment truly was. Don’t reach or Harden will teach.

But, great as it was, that’s not even Harden’s best step back against the Clippers!


February 28, 2018 – That honor belongs to this stare down step back against Wesley Johnson. Every kid’s fear when playing basketball is getting crossed up to the point you fall to the ground. In this ankle-breaking moment, Harden drove left, then brought the ball back between the legs. This sent Johnson falling on the hardwood of the Staples Center, and then this happened.

After Johnson fell, Harden stared down Johnson until he tried to make an attempt to contest the shot. But like many other defenders, it was too late.

Still, this wasn’t the best step back of Harden’s career.

1. Harden Breaks Calvin Murphy’s Record

January 30, 2018 – This was the clear-cut best social distancing step back of James Harden’s legendary career so far. Yes, the move on Johnson was the overall nicer play, but this moment had to be number one. With this very shot, James Harden broke Calvin Murphy‘s single-game scoring record for a Rocket.

Since then, Harden has put up two 61-point games and a handful more between 58 and 60, so Murphy’s 57 is now the eighth-most in franchise history. That wasn’t the only history-making accomplishment in this play, though.

Harden would also draw the foul for a four-point play, which he would convert. This would make Harden the only player in NBA history to have a 60 point triple-double. Murphy joining the Toyota Center applauding Harden for his historical accomplishment made the moment that much better.

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It’s safe to say The Beard is the king of social distancing in the NBA.