Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook has captured lots of attention so far this NBA season for his triple-double average and absurd stat lines from game to game. He’s been so amazing, in fact, that his former teammate James Harden has arguably received too little notice. The Houston Rockets’ leader is having an incredible statistical season of his own, heading into Saturday’s home matchup with the New York Knicks averaging 27.8 points, 11.8 assists (best in the league), and 7.9 rebounds per game. We’d be talking about his potential to average a triple-double in any other year.
If nothing else, Harden made sure that he would win the headline war over Westbrook on the final day of 2016. He decimated the Knicks in Saturday’s 129-122 win, logging his second triple-double in as many games (and eighth of the season) shortly after halftime on his way to 53 points (14-of-26 FG, 9-of-16 3FG, 16-of-18 FT), 17 assists, and 16 rebounds (plus eight turnovers) in 42 minutes.
If those numbers look fake, it’s because they had literally never happened before in an NBA game.
From Elias Sports: James Harden is the first player in NBA history with with 50 points, 15 rebounds & 15 assists in a game.
— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) January 1, 2017
He also matched Wilt Chamberlain’s record for the most points in a triple-double:
James Harden (@rockets) finishes with 53 points, tying Wilt Chamberlain for the most points in a triple-double
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 1, 2017
Better yet, Harden was not putting up empty stats. Despite playing without Kristaps Porzingis and losing Carmelo Anthony to a sore knee before halftime, the Knicks played the Rockets very tight and were within three points as late as the 4:16 mark of the fourth quarter. Point guard Brandon Jennings helped to make up for New York’s key absences with 32 points on 12-of-22 shooting.
However, it was difficult to focus on any other aspect of the game as Harden put up such unreal numbers. On a night that saw Westbrook best his fastest triple-double ever, Harden looked on his way to an even more absurd line at halftime and only added to his totals as the game continued. He was efficient, creative, and downright unguardable throughout the night.
Westbrook has been the NBA’s early MVP frontrunner thanks to all he means for the Thunder in their first season without Kevin Durant, but it might soon be time to name Harden as a co-leader. Houston sits third in the West stands (4 1/2 games ahead of OKC) and relies on Harden for the vast majority of its offensive creation, as well. This battle for the league’s top individual honor figures to be one of the biggest stories of 2017. And it should be a lot of fun.
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