James Harden may have just put together his MVP moment. The Beard had likely the best individual game of the 2018 season Tuesday night, scoring 60 points (along with 11 assists and 10 rebounds) in a 114–107 win over the Magic. With Chris Paul, Eric Gordon and Trevor Ariza out with injuries, Harden stepped up, putting together a monster effort against a frisky Orlando squad that battled Houston until the final minute.
The stat line is Peak Harden. 19-of-30 from the field. An absurd 17-of-18 from the free-throw line. Launching 14 threes. Given the freedom to operate without his Hall-of-Fame backcourt mate, Harden took full advantage, and reminded the rest of the NBA what he can do when given the keys to the car for a full game.
Harden’s effort was historic in multiple ways. His 60 points is a Houston franchise record, besting Calvin Murphy’s 57-point game in 1978. And breaking a record that stood for 30 years was only the start—Harden also became the first player to score 60 points in a triple-double in NBA history.
Harden made history in the only way he knows how, with a shot chart that could bring a tear to Daryl Morey’s eye. Harden attempted only two field goals that weren’t in the paint or a three-pointer. He wreaked havoc at the rim, and shot with gleeful abandon beyond the arc. Multiple Magic defenders were victimized by step backs in the fourth quarter, and Harden’s four-point play that earned him his 60th point was extremely on brand. Let’s watch some highlights!
With LeBron James playing for a middling team, and Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant fighting for credit in Golden State, Harden’s memorable night likely bumps him back to the top of the MVP race. The MVP conversation has been extremely fluid this year, and everyone should expect more back-and-forth throughout the rest of the season. But Harden appears to be fully back from the hamstring injury that slowed him down at the start of the month, and he’s as capable (or more capable, I should say) as anyone else in the league to claim MVP when the dust settles.