After a left ankle sprain forced him to improvise, James Harden stepped to the free-throw line and knocked down a pair of one-legged free throws during Houston's 106-91 road loss to Sacramento on Sunday.
With a little less than 11 minutes remaining in the third quarter and Sacramento leading 59-53, Harden drove left against Ben McLemore and badly sprained his left ankle as he tried to make his way to the basket. Replays showed that his left ankle rolled over towards the outside, and he immediately fell to the ground in evident pain. Houston took a timeout so that Harden could gather himself and remain in the game, and he came back out on to the court to take his foul shots.
Standing only on his right foot and holding his left foot in the air -- adopting a modified Karate Kid "Crane" pose, sort of -- the left-handed Harden proceeded to knock down both free throws.
Houston immediately gave a foul to get Harden out of the game after his shots. The Rockets' All-Star guard would return midway through the third quarter, in attempt to play through the pain, but he was ultimately pulled from the game midway through the fourth quarter because of the injury. Afterwards, the Houston Chronicle reported that Harden was in serious pain and that he could miss some time.
“Very, very, very painful,” Harden said, adding he did not know how long the ankle sprain would keep him out. “I’m in pain right now. I’m just trying to get through this, these seconds.
“It was throbbing so I taped it up real tight to see if I could go out there and move. It wasn’t working so I shut it down.”
This wasn't quite Kobe Bryant knocking down a pair after tearing his Achilles, but Harden's balancing act was still impressive. Perhaps the fact that the charity stripe is familiar turf for Harden helped him deliver through the pain. The five-year vet currently ranks No. 3 in free throw attempts and No. 2 in made free throws, and his 84.6 percent free-throw shooting makes him one of the league's top-25 most accurate free-throwers.
Sacramento overcame Harden's free throws to secure the home win and improve to 7-15 on the season. Rudy Gay led the way with a game-high 26 points (on 10-for-20 shooting), five rebounds, four assists and four steals. DeMarcus Cousins added 21 points (on 7-for-14 shooting), 10 rebounds and five assists for the Kings.
Houston dropped to 16-9 with the loss. Harden netted a team-high 25 points (on 8-for-18 shooting), three rebounds and three assists. Dwight Howard added 13 points (on 4-for-7 shooting) and 10 rebounds in the loss.
The good news for the Rockets: their next game isn't until Wednesday, when they host the Bulls at the Toyota Center in Houston, so Harden will have a few days to get right.