James Harden carried the sub-.500 Houston Rockets to a much-needed win at home against the Los Angeles Lakers Thursday night, as Houston beat L.A. 126-111 in a game that was tight up until the last few minutes.
It was a signature performance from James Harden, who scored 50 points on 14-of-26 shooting and also picked up 11 assists and 10 rebounds for the triple-double.
It was the fourth 50-point triple-double of Harden’s career, which is more than anyone in NBA history.
The highlight reel from the victory is everything you’d expect from James Harden—plenty of fouls, but also plenty of impressive feats. On his very first score of the game, James Harden used his hypnotic triple-threat stutter-step for good and not evil, blowing by Lonzo Ball cleanly and slamming the ball through Javale McGee at the rim:
Defenders like Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart were consistently allowing a free-throw-seeking Harden the space he needed to make plays. And when he got by the guards, big guys McGee and Tyson Chandler often showed little-to-no interest in stopping the ball. Although the threat of Clint Capela—who scored 16 and was the recipient of five Harden dimes—didn’t hurt his scoring either:
Despite the drives and the four triples, a huge chunk of Harden’s points still came at the foul line, where he was 18 of 19. (The rest of the Rockets only shot 13 free throws total.) Harden’s specific ability to get fouls—whether by crafty play or full-on dishonesty—really got into his opponents’ heads. Here is probably Harden’s most egregious flop of the night, which is basically a soccer-style dive that led to a frustrated Kyle Kuzma drawing a technical foul:
Harden’s ability to get the line was such a huge factor in the game that the Lakers even played a few possessions with their hands behind their backs, which Luke Walton said was not part of his game plan.*
“They got guys that can sell calls really good—Chris and James—so you got to try to keep your hands out of the cookie jar,” LeBron James said.
“You can’t touch them,” Lonzo Ball emphasized.
But while the Lakers have a point, it wasn’t just trickery that won James Harden the game. On his best shot of the night, to put his team up double digits in a monster fourth quarter, Harden was one-on-one with LeBron and, failing to draw a whistle, still knocked down a dramatic long-distance bomb that took a beautiful roll around the rim before dropping in.
The Rockets are a reigning conference finalist and they’re currently 13-14. They’re going to need some more rolls like that this season.