Along the way, Harden hit six of 12 three-point attempts against Memphis, allowing him to tie Steph Curry’s NBA record of seven straight games with at least five threes.
And here’s a rather remarkable stat, from the Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor:
Harden was able to do that because of his ability to draw fouls — he made 21 of 27 free throws on Monday ― which is a subject of controversy among fans and even some rival players. However, there can be no doubting the effectiveness of the reigning NBA MVP, whose squad got off to a 1-5 start this season but has now won 10 of its past 11 and is back near the top of the Western Conference.
“I don’t know how you get any better than what he’s playing,” Rockets Coach Mike D’Antoni said of Harden after Monday’s win. “Defensively, too. He comes up with steals, triple-doubles like it’s nothing. So yeah, he’s playing at a different level.”
Harden has scored at least 40 points in each of his past four games and 408 in his past 10. Over the past 30 years of the NBA, only Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant have also managed at least 400 points in a 10-game stretch, and since 1975, only Bryant (13) and Jordan (10) have put together longer streaks of games with 35-plus points than Harden’s eight (and counting).
On Monday, Harden almost put together an unwelcome quadruple-double, adding nine turnovers to his stat sheet-stuffing, and he pointed to that as an area where he had room for improvement.
“I did a poor job of just not controlling the basketball, basically giving them transition points by turnovers,” said Harden, who began the day with news that he had won Western Conference player of the week honors. “I have to take care of the ball more, but just continue to be aggressive and make plays for my team.”
The 29-year-old has had to take on an even greater role since Dec. 20, when guard Chris Paul suffered a hamstring injury that has kept him out of action. In the next two games, Harden had shot totals of 34 and 35, making him the first NBA player with at least 34 field goal attempts in consecutive contests since 2007, when Bryant posted a three-game streak.
The Rockets were hoping to get Paul back in mid-January, but he said Monday that he had “no clue” when he’d return. The team likely won’t want to rush the 33-year-old back and risk re-aggravating his injury, and thanks to Harden’s heroics, Houston has the luxury of not panicking.
“James has been playing at a high level,” Memphis Coach J.B. Bickerstaff said Monday. “Some of the shots that he made in the first half, they are indefensible."
Monday’s effort marked the 39th triple-double of Harden’s career and was his 10th with at least 40 points.
“You can’t settle,” Harden said recently. “Never can settle, never can be satisfied. I always want more.”