The Rockets’ new $80 million man spoiled Atlanta’s home opener by dropping a career-high 45 points on the Hawks in Houston’s 109-102 win on Friday night.
Not a bad encore to his 37-point Rocket debut on Halloween. Working those mammoth stat lines into wins should be even more encouraging to Kevin McHale, Daryl Morey and everyone else (outside of Oklahoma City) who had a hand in making Harden so incredibly wealthy this week.
Averaging 39.5 PPG to open a season is insane. Ruthlessly thrashing defenses as the basketball world suspiciously monitors your every move and debates your merits as a franchise cornerstone is another level of crazy, entirely.
Or in Coach Kevin McHale’s words, “James went out and made play after play after play, off the dribble, attacking.”
DeShawn Stevenson tried to stick James whisker for whisker, but Harden got to the rim almost as easily in the half court as he did on the break and finished 14-of-17 from the floor and 15-of-17 from the free throw line.
After spending his first three professional years as mortar for the Great Wall of Kevin and Russell in Oklahoma City, Harden was traded—along with Lazar Hayward, Cole Aldrich and Daequan Cook—to the Rockets for Jeremy Lamb and draft picks shortly before the season got underway.
Houston has since signed Harden to an extension worth $80 million over five years. That much money, and that many years (the new CBA allows one five-year contract per team) can mean only one thing: Houston expects last season’s Sixth Man of the Year to be the Rockets’ Numero Uno.
He looks plenty comfortable in that role to this point.
“It’s different. It’s a lot different, you know, having basically the entire offense run through you,” Harden said after the game.
“I’ve gotta get used to it. Because it’s my job now.”
Harden’s backcourt bud, Jeremy Lin, thinks Harden not only does his own job well, but makes things easier on everyone else wearing red and white, too.
“I can’t say enough about him,” Lin said. “He frees everybody up.”
“[Harden] knows what he’s doing, how to get to the basket. He can shoot, he can pass, he can rebound, so we’re thankful that he showed up.”