James Harden is back at it again.
The league's back-to-back scoring champ responded to a relatively quiet performance in a Christmas Day loss in a big way as he went for an efficient 44 points (on 63.0% shooting) to go along with 10 rebounds and six assists as the Houston Rockets earned a 108-98 win over the Brooklyn Nets.
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How'd he do it? Partly by getting his work done early.
Harden was on pace for a scoring night of historic proportions as he came out of the gate firing on all cylinders with 23 points in the first quarter alone. Despite playing in under 10 minutes in the opening frame, the seven-time All-Star went 9-for-11 from the field, including 3-for-4 from deep.
23 PTS | 3 3PM | 9-11 FGM- NBA (@NBA) December 29, 2019
The Beard is cookin' through one quarter on NBA League Pass! #OneMission pic.twitter.com/raWX1Ml9OD
Even crazier? He could have done more damage in the first as he missed four of his six free throw attempts in the quarter, something very uncharacteristic to see from an 86.5% free throw shooter.
After Houston led by as many as 22 in the first, Brooklyn responded by face guarding Harden to make things difficult. It worked in the second, as the Nets limited Harden to just two points and clawed back to within nine at the half.
As elite scorers do, Harden responded in the second half.
The Nets continued to try to make things difficult, even taking the lead in the fourth, but Harden always had an answer. He would go on to score 19 points (on 7-for-14 shooting) in the final two quarters to lead the Rockets to a 10-point win as they move to 22-10 on the season.
His 44th point came in trademark James Harden fashion.
🔥 B3ARDING 🔥 pic.twitter.com/ocCxANnLBE- Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) December 29, 2019
Harden has now scored 40 or more points 13 times this season and 90 times in his 11-year NBA career, 89 of which have come in a Rockets uniform.
To take things a step further, Harden has failed to score 20 points just 81 times since joining the Rockets, meaning he is more likely to score 40 or more than he is to score less than 20 points.
James Harden just put up his 90th career 40-point game - 89 with Houston, 1 with OKC.- StatMuse (@statmuse) December 29, 2019
In his career with the Rockets, Harden is more likely to score 40+ points than less than 20 points (81) in a game.
Scoring machine. pic.twitter.com/febEsKtFAx
Harden is now averaging a league-leading 38.3 points per game; 7.8 points separate him and second-leading scorer Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is averaging 30.5 points per contest.
It's a quick turnaround for the Rockets, who head to New Orleans to take on the Pelicans, who have won three straight games.
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