James Harden had a night to remember on Tuesday in Houston.
His Rockets teammates Chris Paul (19 points per game) and Trevor Ariza (12) were out with injuries. In the second quarter, Eric Gordon (19) got hurt as well. That’s a lot of points to make up. And Harden responded, with 60 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, in a 114-107 victory over the Orlando Magic.
“I’ve been in the league 10 years, so I’ve seen some guys go off like that,” D.J. Augustin of the Magic told The Houston Chronicle. “But the way he did it, still getting other guys involved and still running the team, that was amazing.”
Here’s what made it special.
>> It was the most points ever in a triple double: Last March, Russell Westbrook poured in 57 to go along with 10 rebounds and 11 assists, to set the record, bettering a 1968 performance by Wilt Chamberlain, who had 53 points with 14 assists and 32 rebounds. Harden went 3 points better.
>> Rick Barry and Gilbert Arenas came close: Though Westbrook and Chamberlain hold the Nos. 2 and 3 places on the list, strong honorable mentions go to Rick Barry and Gilbert Arenas.
Arenas also scored 60 in 2006, with the Washington Wizards, but had only eight assists and eight rebounds. Barry was even better in a 1974 game with the Golden State Warriors, scoring 64 with 10 rebounds, but he came one assist short, in an era when triple doubles were not as readily noted. Barry’s feat also came before the 3-point shot, so he had to shoot 30 for 45 to score all those points.
>> Harden wasn’t perfect: At 19 for 30, he had his best shooting night of the year, and he made 17 of 18 free-throw attempts.
But he shot only 5 for 14 from 3-point range. Harden, who has had 6-for-10 and 5-for-9 3-point shooting games in January, may have actually left a few points on the floor.
>> Harden is having a huge season: Harden now has four 50-point games this season; the rest of the NBA has four total.
He leads the league in scoring, 3-pointers made and 3-pointers attempted (he led in none of those last season). Despite all those points, he is third in the league in assists.
As usual, he has shown a knack for getting to the free-throw line and making his shots there. Harden’s last three seasons rank second, third and fourth in free throws made this century.
He also is arguably the single most important player to his team this season. He leads in “usage,” a statistic that calculates how many of a team’s plays are run through a particular player. Behind him are Russell Westbrook of the Thunder and Joel Embiid of the 76ers.
Harden’s individual numbers have helped lead the Rockets to a 36-13 record, second best to the Warriors. If they keep that rate up, they would set a franchise record for wins.
>> Where does it rank: Basketball-Reference’s Game Score stat sums up all of a player’s contributions.
By that measure, Harden had the best game of the NBA season, surpassing LeBron James’ 57-point, 11-rebound effort against the Wizards in November.
Game Score data goes back to 1983-84 (so it does not include legendary games like Chamberlain’s 100-pointer). In that time, the top four games were Michael Jordan’s career-high 69-pointer in 1990, Kobe Bryant’s 81-pointer in 2006, Karl Malone’s 61 in 1990 and a 73-point game by David Thompson in 1978. Harden’s gem is judged fifth best.
The game was also the first 60-pointer by a Rocket. Harden now has nine 50-point games as a Rocket. All the other players to wear the uniform now have eight.