James Harden is the Best I've Ever Seen*
Last night against the Golden State Warriors, Harden punched his way into my memory bank with more force than anyone ever has.
Photo by John G. Mabanglo/EPA-EFE
My wife hates how often I exaggerate things.
This was us on New Year’s Eve: Me: Wow this is the best pizza I’ve ever had. Her: Please shut up.
It’s a habit that stretches to every corner of my life, from declaring a new pair of Yeezy Boost 350 V2’s as “the most comfortable shoe of all time” to describing whatever happened on last week’s episode of 90 Day Fiance as “the most genius hour of television ever filmed.” It’s very annoying and I should probably stop.
Last night, under the false assumption that the Golden State Warriors were well on their way to blowing the Houston Rockets out by 35 points, I went to bed around midnight. I woke up this morning, grabbed my phone, and saw what everyone smart enough to stay awake already knew. James Harden drew a 44-point, 15-assist, 10-rebound masterpiece against the defending champions, inside the NBA’s own viper pit. Instead of Chris Paul and Eric Gordon, he had Austin Rivers and Danuel House Jr. driving lanes didn’t exist, but Harden thrived on a tightrope, raining unguardable step-back three after unguardable step-back three—his delightfully deleterious finishing move that has now been launched (efficiently!) over 200 times.
Recency bias is hard to shake, but in an effort to stop hyperbolizing every other thought, I won’t call what Harden has done over the past three weeks the most impressive individual basketball I’ve ever seen. Steph Curry’s run in 2016 was an extinction level event that demolished all preconceived notion of what can be done on a basketball court, and LeBron James was his own planet throughout last year’s postseason. In January 2006, Kobe Bryant dragged a Lakers team that had Smush Parker and Chris Mihm as their third and fourth options to a 9-4 record while averaging 43.4 points with a 61.1 True Shooting percentage (included in that run was his 81-point game).
But after last night, Harden punched his way into my memory bank with more force than anyone ever has. (Overstatement be damned.) He’s at the point where nothing should surprise you.
Oh, he scored 78 points on five shots wearing cowboy boots and an eye patch?
Sounds about right.
He assisted every single one of his Houston’s baskets while grabbing 19 rebounds and swishing four half-court shots?
He spent the first half hovering six inches above the court, self-combusted at halftime, then took a bath in holy water after the game?
Wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.
Let’s attempt to contextualize this. Since Luka Doncic scored 11 points in the last four seconds of Houston’s heartbreaking loss in Dallas, Harden is averaging 40 points, nine assists, 6.6 rebounds, and two steals per game. The Rockets are 11-1 in that stretch. Their only loss was by two points against Miami—the night Paul pulled his groin—and Harden finished with 35 points, 12 assists, and was +6 in 43 minutes. (Houston also has the league’s highest winning percentage vs. teams above .500, which is something to keep an eye on.)
Also during that stretch, a 50-point triple-double (in 35 minutes!) against the Los Angeles Lakers, and a 43-point triple-double against the Memphis Grizzlies in which he only made eight baskets. The Rockets aren’t decomposing when Harden is on the bench, but they would if he didn’t play at all. This is what an MVP looks like, and even though I won’t definitively call it the best basketball I’ve ever seen anyone play, it very well might be.