James Harden Torches Knicks With 37 Points in Rockets Blowout Win
The Rockets' offense continued to roll in its small-ball iteration on Monday night as Houston shot 50% from the field in a 123-112 victory over the lottery-bound Knicks.
There was little drama in Houston's win at the Toyota Center on Monday. New York hung around in a high-scoring first quarter, but its inability to contain James Harden led to a 15-point Rockets' lead at halftime. Harden scored 31 points in the first 24 minutes, and he finished the night just shy of his third 40-point effort against the Knicks in the last four seasons. With a six-week sprint left until the playoffs, Monday night provided a welcome respite for Harden and Co.
Here are three takeaways as the Rockets advanced to 37–20 in 2019-20.
Harden Lights Up New York
James Harden faced little resistance from a slate of Knicks defenders on Monday night. Whether it be R.J. Barrett, Maurice Harkless or Reggie Bullock, New York had little answer for slowing down the NBA's leading scorer.
It wasn't just a physical failure for the Knicks as they allowed Harden to tally 37 points. There were a slate of mental lapses as well. Multiple Knicks oddly played Harden on his right hip on Monday, allowing him a free lane to burst to the tin for a left-hand layup. 10 of Harden's 14 field goals against the Knicks came near the rim, including seven baskets in the first half. Rather than send a double team, New York head coach Mike Miller chose to consistently cover Harden 1-on-1 in the first half. The decision didn't exactly pay dividends.
Harden logged one of his season's top highlights in the first quarter on Monday night. The two-time scoring champion isolated Knicks guard Dennis Smith Jr. on the left wing, then sent the N.C. State product sprawling to the floor with a vicious crossover. Perhaps Harden pushed off to a degree, but Smith received no help from the officials as Harden banged home a wide-open triple. After a shaky stretch in January, Harden appears to fully have his groove back.
McLemore, Rivers Let it Fly
Houston's rotation has evolved from slight to stacked in recent weeks after a pair of recent trades and buyout acquisitions, but it isn't just the Rockets' newcomers who have fueled their recent hot stretch. Houston backup guards Ben McLemore and Austin Rivers have both been effective of late, and the duo turned in another strong performance on Monday.
McLemore and Rivers combined for 31 points on Monday on 11-17 from the field, with the pair tallying six triples by the final buzzer. McLemore has been absolutely on fire since the All-Star break. He's hit 11 of 16 threes in his last three contests, and he's shooting 49.2% from three in his last 10 games. McLemore has a quick trigger and the ultimate green light. He continued to show off his smooth stroke on Monday.
"We have so much offensive firepower, at this point, anybody can get going," Rivers told the media postgame. "Offensively we can score more than anybody. I think we're the best offensive team in the league."
Rooke R.J. Barrett Impresses
There weren't many bright spots for the Knicks in their blowout defeat on Monday, though rookie R.J. Barrett impressed in the first half as he tried to keep up with Harden. The Duke product scored 14 points in the first half on 6-8 shooting at the Toyota Center, finishing the night with 21 points. Barrett isn't on Zion Williamson or Ja Morant's plane as a rookie, but he's shown flashes of All-Star potential in spurts. Barrett has a reliable mid-range jumper, and he's effective snaking into the lane on the pick-and-roll. If Barrett can hone his three-point stroke (and receive some much-needed help) a quality career could unfold over the next decade.
Up Next: vs. Memphis on Wednesday
The Rockets will look to secure their ninth win in the last 11 games on Wednesday as Morant and the Grizzlies come to Houston. Memphis has far exceeded expectations this season, rising from a 33-win season in 2018-19 to the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference entering Wednesday night. Morant is averaging 17.6 points and 6.9 assists per game in his first season out of Murray State.
Tip-off from the Toyota Center is slated for 7 p.m. CT.