- Rob Carr/Getty Images
- James Harden scored 54 points in an overtime loss to the Washington Wizards.
- During one two-minute stretch, Harden scored every point in a 10-0 run by the Houston Rockets.
- The game showed that Harden is still in MVP form at a time when some believe he has taken a small step back.
James Harden is so good, no really, even this season.
During an overtime loss to the Washington Wizards on Monday, last year’s MVP dominated all game, like when during one stretch when he scored every point in a 10-0 run by the Houston Rockets.
Here’s the buildup: 3:40 left in the third quarter, Harden throws the ball at rookie Gary Clark and looks away. In coach Mike D’Antoni’s system, everyone but Harden and co-pilot Chris Paul tends to play in rigid sequences: pass, shoot, switch, immediately acting on whatever they’ve learned, which is how Harden knows that Clark will shoot the three.
The rookie misses, no matter: on defense Harden, the league-leader in steals chases the ball up court and helps his teammates smother the Wizards in the paint.
Next play Harden lazily dribbles the ball between his legs, almost loses it, and then seems to decide he’s had enough. Dribble, step back, swish: Harden for three.
When the Rockets get another stop, Harden takes it and drives straight to the basket and draws a foul: he makes both free throws.
When the Rockets win it back again, Harden gets the ball at three-point range, shimmies, and shoots past a frantically stretching Bradley Beal, and draws another foul: he makes two of three at the line.
Next play, Harden nearly picks off the ball and helps force the Wizards into an airball late in the shot clock: then right away, he’s at the three-point line again: shimmy, step back, swish.
In this quietly brilliant two-minute stretch, the score is Harden 10, Wizards 0.
Some NBA fans, it seems, like to claim that James Harden sucks at basketball, that he cheats the system with three-pointers and free throws and goes to sleep on defense. But have you seen him lately? The 6’5″ point guard ranges around the court like a lion, slow, sudden, lethal. That merciless scoring, those league-leading 2.3 steals per game, only his lightning-fast mind (paired with NASA-level strategists in D’Antoni, defense chief Jeff Bzdelik, and Paul) and his ripped body seem capable of pulling it off.
Bearded, in a big red headband, Harden looked like Santa Clause on Monday night. He delivered 54 points on 17 of 32 field goals, 13 of 15 at the line, with 8 rebounds, 3 steals, and 13 assists. Last year’s MVP looked like he hasn’t missed a beat.
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