I wanted to write this article two days ago and somehow managed to restrain my excessive homerism. This time, I don’t think I can hold it in.
The criticism was completely reasonable. It’s just one game, against a below-average to mediocre Detroit Pistons team. Sure, 37 points was impressive… but it was just one game.
And I’m sure the same cynics will say the same thing tonight. It’s just two games. Sure, a career-high 45 points is impressive… but still, it was just two games.
Well, let the cynics talk. There’s no convincing me that the potential locked under James Harden’s beard isn’t something special. After competing in practice for three years against two of the best ten players in the NBA, it’s apparent that he is more than ready to embrace the role as a go-to guy. He proved that tonight in the Houston Rockets 109-102 win.
This Atlanta Hawks team that fell victim to his relentless attack isn’t exactly full of slouchy players. They have two All-Stars at the rim and a sixth man of the year candidate at the perimeter. Still, nothing deterred The Beard’s offensive presence.
In game 1, when Harden couldn’t find a shot in the Detroit paint, he created for others. Tonight, when he couldn’t find open passing lanes, he made shots. Simple as that. His versatility and ability to attack the basket aren’t common traits. I can probably think of 5 players in the NBA that make scoring look as effortless as Harden has for the past two nights.
His performance was only elevated by another above-average game by starting point guard Jeremy Lin and center Omer Asik. Lin finished with 10 rebounds, 7 assists and 21 points and his hot hand from outside further spaced the floor for the offense. At times the pace of this Rockets offense was nothing short of breathtaking.
Asik, meanwhile, scored 0 points and pulled down 19 rebounds; an odd stat-line, but impressive regardless.
All of this said, the game was ugly. Houston turned the ball over 21 times, despite dominating the boards 58-36. They choked up a 16 point lead before Harden came in and cleaned things up with a fouled lay-up, a steal, and then an and one.
The silver lining to the sloppy play is obvious, Houston finally has a guy that they can rely on to make the big shot when nothing is going right, and be aggressive when it matters.
Maybe it has only been two games, but watching this Houston team leaves one with the impression that this is something we might need to get used to.
Ian Jacoby covers the Houston Rockets for Rantsports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @IanJacoby.