James Harden was listed as questionable for Thursday night’s game against the Boston Celtics (20-14), but there was nothing questionable about his performance. The reigning MVP dropped 45 points, his eighth straight game scoring 30 plus, leading the Rockets (19-15) to a 127-113 win.
“It’s hard to describe,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He just has a mastery of the game and an ease at which he plays. It’s fun to watch.”
Harden’s dominance began straight from the jump. He hit five three-pointers on his way to 17 points and four assists in the first quarter. The Rockets ended the quarter up 11, and were able to extend the lead to a game-high 17 early in the second quarter thanks to strong play from their bench. The bench mob consisted of Nene, Gerald Green, and new signing Austin Rivers; they were all able to put their imprint on the game. The trio combined for 27 points and a plus/minus of plus 63. Rivers especially has given Houston a huge boost since he was acquired from free agency on Sunday.
“He’s gritty, he gets in there, defensively he does what we need,” D’Antoni said. “[The bench] really did their jobs, and Austin and Eric [Gordon] were both a really big part of that.”
Boston wasn’t going to lay down easy. Harden hit a cold patch, going scoreless in the second quarter, and the Celtics worked their way back into the game. Boston ended the first half on a 22-7 run, assisted by three technical fouls called on the Rockets in the space of about one minute. The last of which being this call on Clint Capela for hanging on the rim. I’ll let you make your own judgement.
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Capela did more than hang on the rim against Boston, as he notched a monstrous 24 points and 18 rebounds on the night. That makes 24 double-doubles on the season for Clint. D’Antoni partially credits a bit of a break in the Rockets usual “switch everything” system for his recent uptick in rebounding.
“Defensively we’re holding him more inside than letting him switch,” D’Antoni said.
The end of the third quarter gave the fans the Kyrie Irving vs. James Harden shootout that they came for. In the last 5:21 of the quarter Irving had seven points and two assists, while Harden had nine points on three shots from beyond the arch.
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) December 28, 2018
The fireworks ended in the third, as Harden and the Rockets once again took control of the game in the final quarter and never looked back.
Thursday night’s win is their eighth in the last ten. The Rocket’s now sit at sixth in the Western Conference, and look to continue their resurgence Saturday night away against the New Orleans Pelicans.