A couple weeks ago, James Harden was named Western Conference Player of the Week after dominating in a Rockets OT win over the Blazers. He was even better on Friday in Houston’s 117-111 overtime win over the Grizzlies, and we want to call attention to his clutch defense in that extra session, since we’re all so quick to point out when he bungles a defensive assignment.
We’ve spent countless hours denigrating Harden for his lack of defensive effort. But he’s shown he cares about that end of the court, and he expended a lot of energy on offense and defense when Dwight Howard battled a strained knee earlier in the season. Never was this more apparent then in Houston’s big Friday win in Memphis.
Harden was his usual self on offense, but somehow more efficient. He scored 32 points on 10-for-17 from the field, 10-of-11 from the charity stripe and 2-for-4 from deep. His ability to draw fouls and change gears on a possession makes him one of the trickiest guards in the Association, as Tayshaun Prince found out on this hesitation dribble before the off-hand layup:
The Beard also dished for 10 assists and grabbed eight rebounds during his all-around performance, but it was the last of this three blocks that was the biggest reason the Rockets secured an overtime win on the road against a Western Conference rival:
Clinging to a 113-111 lead with under 30 seconds to play in overtime, Tony Allen gets open under the basket for what seems to be an easy layup. Except, Harden swoops in and gets the clean block before Allen misses a more contested shot and Howard snags the board — all but assuring the Rockets of the game:
James Harden’s defense sealed it for the Rockets, and his offense is better than ever. Perhaps it’s time we stop focusing on the negatives, or perhaps Harden grew tired of his tired play on one end of the court.
Yes, the Rockets are a shade better on defense when Harden sits (plus 0.9 points per 100 possessions), but they score more than nine points more per 100 possessions when Harden’s on the court, too.
Is James Harden an MVP candidate so far this year?
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