James Harden scores 50 for 1st time as Rockets defeat Nuggets

Since his trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Houston Rockets in October 2012, James Harden has become one of the most prolific and efficient scores in the NBA. However, Harden came into Thursday night's game with the visiting Denver Nuggets having never hit one of the most identifiable milestones for a top-level scorer — a 50-point game. While the second-leading scorer in the NBA has put up a career-high 26.7 ppg this season, that single massive scoring night has eluded him so far in his career.

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Well, the wait is over, because Harden went for 50 in Thursday's 118-108 victory over the Nuggets. Although his shooting from the floor (12-of-27 overall, 4-of-12 from three-point range) wasn't great, Harden took advantage of his peerless ability to get to the line and hit 22-of-25 foul shots to finish with the milestone. Take a look at the highlights:

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And here's a look at Harden's postgame interview:


Harden's previous career high was 46 points in a February 2013 game against his one-time Thunder teammates. Prior to Thursday, he had scored 40 points on 11 occasions, six of which had come earlier this season. It was also the Rockets' first 50-point game since Hakeem Olajuwon accomplished the feat for the two-time defending champions way back in January 1996 vs. the Boston Celtics. Incidentally, the Rockets honored those back-to-back title winners on Thursday night.

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Despite the career-best night, the stats and video both prove that it was a pretty standard Harden performance. He took the vast majority of his shots from either the perimeter or the paint, relying on high-efficiency opportunities in keeping with the Rockets' overall offensive philosophy. As evidenced by this collection of shot charts comparing Harden to other 50-point scorers of the season, he wasn't especially explosive from any one part of the floor — he just got points via his typical moves and decisions:

In some respects, then, this performance was inevitable given the way Harden goes about scoring from game to game. The primary difference between this game and one of his many 30-point games was that he took a few more shots and got fouled considerably more often than usual. That quality makes this 50-point game both more impressive than others and somewhat more disappointing — it may be more reproducible, but it also lacked some of the lightning-in-a-bottle magic of other scoring outbursts.


But that's an issue for neutrals, not the Rockets or their fans. Harden added 10 rebounds and four assists as four teammates joined him in double figures. Houston is now a full game (or two wins and zero losses) ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers for third place in the West and could get Dwight Howard back in the lineup very soon. Even if Howard can't play at his usual star level, the presence of Harden should be enough to make the Rockets a formidable postseason opponent. He is arguably the most dependable offensive force in the NBA right now, no matter if he scores 50 or a mere 35.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!