Rollin' In The Rye

James Harden reaches a new level of dominance heading into the New Year

Credit: ESPN

James Harden finished 2016 by cementing his name in the NBA’s record books once again, carrying his Houston Rockets to a 129-122 victory over the New York Knicks on New Year’s Eve.

Harden was fantastic, finishing with a career-high 53 points on 14-26 FG, to go along with 16 rebounds and 17 assists – becoming the 1st player in NBA history to finish with a 50-point, 15-rebound and 15-assist stat line. He also tied Wilt Chamberlain for the most points in a triple-double (53) in league history, while accounting for a ridiculous 95 of his team’s 129 points. His MVP-caliber play has taken the Rockets to another level, leading them to a 4-game winning streak and a 26-9 record entering the New Year.

The Beard had a spectacular night with him becoming just the fifth player in NBA history to record a triple-double while scoring at least 50 points. He joined some elite company in Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Vince Carter, and Tracy McGracy, while establishing himself as one of the most dominant offensive forces to ever play.

All of Harden’s abilities would be on full display on Saturday night, with him giving New York a full taste of what he could do on the court. Going up against the league’s 13th best ranked offence, he knew that his Rockets would need to tally up their fair share of buckets to come away with a win. Despite getting off to a great start offensively, the Rockets would find themselves down 32-27 at the end of the 1st quarter – with Derrick Rose leading the way with 9 points.

Thankfully for the Rockets, Harden would come out strong in the 2nd quarter and take matters into his own hands. He would score 19 points in the 2nd quarter, knocking down 4 of his 5 3-point attempts, and adding 4 assists to give his Rockets a 69-55 lead to end the 1st half.  The Beard was bound for a special night, with him posting 24 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists throughout the first 24 minutes of action, as it quickly became obvious that the Knicks didn’t have an answer for him.

Even with Harden imposing his will over the Knicks, mixed in with Carmelo Anthony leaving the game with a sore knee, they managed to find a way to stay upbeat and competitive – heading into the 3rd quarter with an edge. Led by Brandon Jennings and Rose in the backcourt, they’d outscore the Rockets 37-30 in the frame, while they rallied the Knicks towards a comeback. Despite their efforts, Harden wouldn’t let the duo spoil his terrific night – with him continuing to deliver blows; scoring 8 of his team’s last 11 points to head into the 4th quarter with a 99-94 lead.

With the Knicks reeling off of his strong 3rd quarter, it wouldn’t take long for Harden to take over and close the game for his team in the final frame. Milking the clock and finding his teammates for open jumpshots, Harden would eventually seal the deal with his 17th and final assist of the game – hitting Ryan Anderson on the fast break to give his Rockets a 124-113 lead with 1:40 remaining. Harden would add a couple more baskets to help his team hold off the lead, and eventually pull away with a win behind his dominant performance.

Harden is having a fantastic 2016-17 campaign, posting 28.5 points on 45.2 FG%, to go along with a career-high 8.1 rebounds, and a league-leading 12 assists in 36.4 minutes a game. Under head coach Mike D’Antoni’s high-tempo system, Harden has flourished in his new role as his team’s “point guard”; finding his teammates for easy buckets, while continuing to score at will.

At this point, Harden has given himself an edge in the NBA’s 2-man race for the league’s MVP award. Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple-double, but Harden’s contributions are speaking higher volumes as he leads his team to a better record and the 3rd seed in the Western Conference. He’s playing like an all-time great, while still finding ways to secure wins for his team heading into the New Year. There will always be a debate for the league’s best player, but Harden is proving that he might in fact be the most dominant player in the game today.

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You can follow Peter Ash on Twitter @peterash_

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