It took one disparaging postgame interview for James Harden to finally get his wish. The Houston Rockets ended their eight-year relationship with the disgruntled superstar on Wednesday by sending him to the Brooklyn Nets in a blockbuster four-team deal that also included the Indiana Pacers and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
As with the case with every superstar player demanding to be traded, Harden’s departure has left a bad taste in the mouth of Rockets fans. Considering the wound is still fresh, all they can probably think about are the dark days that Harden brought to the team: Showing up completely out of shape, his love for strip clubs over training camps, and even his inability to lead the Rockets to the NBA Finals.
But in hindsight, Harden’s good days in H-Town far outweigh the bad ones. The Beard singlehandedly turned the Rockets around when they acquired him from the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012. Since then, the Rockets became perennial contenders in the stacked Western Conference.
Harden led the NBA in scoring for the past three seasons and became the Rockets’ second all-time leading scorer behind Hakeem Olajuwon. He also joined Olajuwon and Moses Malone as only the three players to win MVP while donning the Rockets colors.
But love him or hate him, Harden will no doubt go down as one of the best players Clutch City ever had.
In the wake of James Harden packing his bags to join the Nets, here are his five best moments with the Rockets.
5. Led Rockets to overcome 3-1 deficit vs. Clippers
While Harden and the Rockets have also been at the short end of a 3-1 deficit, there was a time when they emerged as the victors.
It was truly a collective effort for the rag-tag Rockets crew in 2015 to upset the heavily favored Los Angeles Clippers in the second round of the NBA Playoffs. But it certainly wouldn’t have happened if not for Harden’s heroics. The Beard averaged 25.1 points per game in the series that stretched to seven games.
He capped off his dominating run with a statement performance in the decisive Game 7, pouring 31 points and eight dimes.
4. 31-straight 30-plus point games
It’s a fact that Harden is a walking bucket with his ability to score from anywhere from here to Timbuktu. The fact that he also gets to the line at will makes him virtually unstoppable.
While Harden has averaged more than 30 points thrice with the Rockets, it’s still quite a marvel to watch him eclipse 30 points for 31 straight games during the 2018-19 season.
The 6-foot-6 lefty tied the legendary Wilt Chamberlain’s record for the second-longest 30-point streak in NBA history. He was getting close to The Big Dipper’s record of 34 straight outings but fell a bucket short in the following game.
3. Game-winning shots
While Harden is easily the most offensively gifted player the Rockets have ever had, he also lived up to the mantra of Clutch City. The former Arizona State star bailed out his team several times in big moments with game-winning daggers.
In a regular season game in 2015, Harden sank the Phoenix Suns with a step-back beauty to punctuate his 33-point, eight-assist evening.
In Game 3 of their first round series against the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Playoffs, Harden busted out that familiar step-back to hit the game-winner over Andre Iguodala with just 2.7 seconds left.
The eight-seed Rockets eventually lost the series, 4-1, but the game-winner allowed them to evade an embarrassing sweep.
Three years later, Harden was back torturing the Warriors with another clutch bucket in a regular season game. With the Rockets down by one with less than five ticks remaining in overtime, the eight-time All-Star drilled a ridiculously difficult trey over Draymond Green and Klay Thompson for the win.
2. Ridiculous triple-double of 53 points, 16 rebounds, 17 assists
It’s no surprise that Harden can stuff the stat sheet on a nightly basis. But back in a New Year’s Eve game in 2016 against the New York Knicks, The Beard took it to a whole different level. Like Are-You-Kidding-Me? level.
He put up amazing numbers never before seen in the NBA. The former Sixth Man of the Year poured a jaw-dropping triple-double of 53 points, 16 rebounds, and 17 assists in the Rockets’ victory. Those are straight-up video game numbers right there.
All in all, Harden scored or assisted in 95 of the Rockets’ 129 points that evening.
1. 60-point triple-double
Harden has recorded 49 triple-doubles in his career so far. He is also the leader of an extremely exclusive club of six players who have recorded 50-point triple-doubles in NBA history.
But as amazing as that feat already sounds, Harden has already topped that by becoming the only player to record a 60-point triple-double. That occurred in a regular season game against the Orlando Magic in 2018, when he put up 60 points, 10 boards, and 11 dimes.
Just James Harden doing James Harden things.