No Chris Paul. No Eric Gordon. No Clint Capela. No problem. The Houston Rockets still have James Harden.
In a mind-boggling performance, Harden and his supporting cast — if you can call it that — managed to rout the Memphis Grizzlies, 112-94, at Houston’s Toyota Center, with Harden scoring 57 points in 34 minutes.
It was the 17th game in a row in which Harden scored at least 30 points — a feat previously accomplished in a single season only by Wilt Chamberlain — and it was Harden’s third game of 50 or more points this season. No other player has more than one.
While the outburst was hardly unexpected for Harden, who is now averaging an NBA-leading 34.8 points a game, the Rockets’ personnel situation made it stand out. Paul has been out with an injured hamstring since Dec. 20 and Gordon has been out with an injured knee since Dec. 29. Houston’s injury report then took on what seemed like a crippling blow earlier Monday when it was revealed that Capela, the team’s center — and the most frequent recipient of Harden’s assists — would be out for 4-6 weeks as a result of ligament damage in his right thumb.
That list of injuries left Harden starting alongside the forgettable quartet of P.J. Tucker, Nene, Austin Rivers, and Danuel House Jr. No matter, as Harden joined Charlotte’s Kemba Walker as the only players to score more than half their team’s points in a game this season.
Harden was hot from the start, setting a Rockets record with 36 points in the first half, and he succeeded all game with his typical combination of 3-pointers (6 for 15) and free throws (17 for 18). He also led all players in the game with nine rebounds and committed just five turnovers despite his outrageous level of usage.
The last time Harden scored fewer than 30 points was Dec. 11 in Houston’s win over the Trail Blazers, and he just barely missed the feat that night, with 29 points on 10-of-21 shooting. Since then he has averaged 43.9 points a game over the 17 games in which the Rockets, who got off to a poor start this season, have gone 13-4.
In the 17 games, Harden has topped 50 points twice and 40 points 10 times. He has also recorded five triple-doubles.
While Harden’s performance Monday pushed him past Kobe Bryant and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the NBA’s longest single-season streak of 30-plus points by a player not named Chamberlain, Harden has a long way to go before catching Wilt.
Chamberlain had multiple 30-point streaks, of 20, 25, 31, and 65 games in his career, according to Basketball-Reference.com. The longest one, which came during his record-setting 1961-62 season, is likely an unbreakable record, but it comes with an amusing footnote: In Chamberlain’s last game before the streak started, he was held to 28 points in a loss to Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics. When the streak finally ended more than three months later, Chamberlain was held to 26 points — in a loss to Russell’s Celtics.
As it stands, though, Harden does not appear to have a foil that can be his version of Russell, so there is no telling when this streak will end.