In a game with playoff type atmosphere, reigning NBA MVP James Harden was on full display in every way. Before he even set foot on the court in this Christmas Day special, Harden did his best Santa impersonation by dishing out MacBook’s and Beats by Dre headphones to teammates. But once the tipoff buzzer sounded, it was the fans who were treated to high octane entertainment.
The Houston Rockets seem to be getting back on track after their slow start to season, beginning their campaign at 1-6. After three straight losses had them sitting at 11-14, Houston climbed to an 18-15 record by winning seven of their last eight games. That puts them 7th in the Western Conference and rising. It’s no secret Houston’s rise coincided with Carmelo Anthony’s departure, but that’s another story for another day. By comparison, the Oklahoma City Thunder sit 3rd in the conference with a 21-12 record.
This was a game of two halves. The Thunder were up 8-points at the half led by their big three, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Steven Adams. In the second half, Houston outscored them by 12 points. OKC got within 4-points after a big 3-point basket by George with less than 2-minutes to go. Then within two points after free throws by George with 46 seconds left. That’s as close as they would get as a Harden layup put Houston up by four and sealed the win, 113-109.
Harden finished with 41-points including five 3-pointers. It was his seventh consecutive 30-point game, and his fifth consecutive 35-point game. He’s the first player to do this since Russell Westbrook reached eight consecutive 30-point games in 2016. Harden has a chance to reach that feat against the Celtics on Thursday. He’s also the last player to score over 40-points on Christmas since Kevin Durant with the Thunder in 2010.
In his first game with the Rockets, Austin Rivers got off to tough start air balling his first shot. But back-to-back threes late in game helped Houston win the game. He also took on the huge responsibility of defending Westbrook. He’s looking at extra court time during Chris Paul’s absence with a hamstring strain.
Clint Capela, grabbing 10 rebounds in his first 10 minutes of action, finished with 16-points and 23 rebounds, a Christmas day rebound record. He’s now recorded back-to-back games with 20 rebounds and putting up career high numbers since signing to stay with the Rockets in the off-season
Paul George featured a double-double for OKC, scoring 28-points and grabbing 14 boards. Westbrook came up short of a triple-double with 21-points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists on 6-20 shooting. They’ll look for a better outcome when they face the Phoenix Suns on Friday.