OAKLAND, Calif. — If James Harden were to hoist his second consecutive MVP award in June, his masterful performance on the road against the back-to-back defending champions on Thursday night could serve as the signature moment that separates him from the pack.
With Chris Paul and Eric Gordon sidelined, Harden willed the Houston Rockets to a 135-134 overtime victory by draining a highly contested 3-pointer over the outstretched hands of Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, leaving only a second remaining on the clock.
Oracle Arena immediately went mute.
After nailing the dagger and simultaneously falling to the hardwood, Harden raised up and began jawing at Green, and the power forward, who didn’t take too kindly to the chatter, returned the exchange.
But there was nothing that could be said.
Harden helped the Rockets overcome a 20-point, third-quarter deficit by erupting for a game-high 44 points (10-of-23 from beyond the arc) to go with 10 rebounds and 15 assists.
“I don’t know where [that shot] ranks,” Harden said, “but I’m just happy to come away with a win.”
The Warriors, who are 0-4 in overtime this season, didn’t give the game away like some of them suggested. Harden took it.
“That’s why he is who he is,” Green said. “He’s going to get what shot he wants.”
Inside the Rockets’ locker room, players were on their phones watching highlights and raving about what Harden unleashed on the court.
“I’ve never shot that one before,” Rockets guard Austin Rivers said about the game-winner. “I have no idea what that’s like, shooting over three people. … His is so loud because we leave him on one island. His points are loud. KD [Kevin Durant] will get a tip-in, layup or jump shot, but everything James does is so loud with his crossovers. It embarrasses defenders. His 40 points seems like it is 70. We look at each other and we are like, ‘Goodness gracious.’ What he is doing right now is pretty special.”
Houston has a 2-0 season series lead on Golden State with two more meetings remaining. Kevin Durant, who supplied 26 points and seven rebounds, couldn’t explain why the Rockets have been a problem for them.
“I don’t know,” Durant said. “We just have to be better.”
Harden has now topped 40 or more points in five consecutive games, anchoring a team that has won 11 of its last 12 contests.
“Every year, he just seems to get a little bit better,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said of his All-Star shooting guard. “I don’t know how he does it. These last weeks have been phenomenal. These last two or three years have been phenomenal. His step-back is better, his defense is better. Everything is better.”
Meanwhile, the Warriors continue to look like a disengaged group. The 135 points were the most they allowed to an opponent all season and it was also their largest blown lead of the year.
Green remained adamant that there aren’t any underlying issues in the locker room that are preventing the team from staying focused.
“None, we just lost,” Green told Yahoo Sports. “What are we, third in the West? Any other team in this league, if they’re in third, there’s no question if there is a concern. So, we’ll be alright.”
The Warriors are still of the mindset that they will turn it on when it matters, which is a dangerous game to play. But they have proved they’re capable of pulling it off.
“We’ll stay the course,” Thompson said. “We will get back to what we do. It’s been a different year than it has been in the past. Even though we aren’t blowing teams out, we still are 11 games above .500 with a chance to go on a run here before the All-Star break. It’s not the end of the world.”
However, it might end up being the end of the MVP race. This might go down as the night Harden took the award, just as he took the victory at Oracle.
“He’s the master of the isolation, the step-back three and drawing fouls,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I thought we did a really good job of keeping him off the line, for the most part. He made an impossible shot at the end. Just an incredible performance. Give him all the credit he deserves.”
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