James Harden’s streak of 35-point games will end at 10, but it was another MVP-caliber performance from the Beard. He led Houston past the Western Conference leading Denver Nuggets in the first game of the post-MCW era.
The Nuggets’ early defensive plan was clear: stop the MVP. The Nuggets double-teamed Harden every trip down the floor, daring someone else to beat them. Harden found plenty of success passing out of Denver’s double-teams, and the guys he passed to didn’t disappoint.
Harden dished out 14 assists, and no one benefited more than PJ Tucker. Tucker started the night in the midst of a massive shooting slump, having made only 18.2% of his three-point shots in the five previous games. I think it’s safe to say he broke out of the slump. Tucker nailed a career high seven threes on the game en route to 21 points.
“I really needed it, I’ve been stinking it up lately,” Tucker said after the game.
PJ wasn’t the only Rocket to set a personal record on the night. Gerald Green had a season high in scoring (21), and Clint Capela had a new career high (31).
Houston really spread the ball around and it showed up on the stat sheet. Four players eclipsed the 20-point mark and the Rockets logged 28 assists on the night, about seven more than their average this season (21.1).
Don’t get it twisted though, Harden still got his. He waited until late in the first half to score his first field goal of the game, but it was worth the wait.
Harden caught another victim pic.twitter.com/0aa1isQnSN
— The Crossover (@TheCrossover) January 8, 2019
Harden hit a couple more threes to close out the half, and finished the game with 32 points.
The Rockets are now 8-2 in their last ten games, and that’s with no Chris Paul for the last nine and Eric Gordon for the last four. Despite the strong performance in their absence, there were still signs that Houston sorely missed Paul and Gordon. Brandon Knight, who has filled in for some of Paul and Gordon’s minutes, played six minutes tonight, scoring zero points and getting absolutely torched by Nuggets backup point guard Monte Morris.
Nonetheless, this win takes the Rockets to 23-16 on the season, putting them in a tie with the Clippers for the fourth seed in the Western Conference. Let’s hope the Rockets can keep toppling the league’s titans on Wednesday night, when they take on the Milwaukee Bucks (28-11).