James Harden Wins NBA Player of the Night After Sizzling Rockets Debut
The 2012-13 NBA campaign carried on Wednesday night, bringing a bevy of both surprising and impressive performances.
Steve Nash and the Los Angeles Lakers continued to struggle, falling to the Portland Trail Blazers. Anthony Davis made his debut for New Orleans Hornets, leading the way for his team with 21 points and seven rebounds in a close-call loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
But the real memorable performance, borderline shock of Wednesday night?
Stat Line: 37 points, 12 assists, six rebounds, four steals, 14-of-25 field goals and five-of-six free throws in 44 minutes
The matchup itself meant nothing. Houston and the Detroit Pistons do not have a rich basketball history against each other.
For Harden, though, it meant everything.
This was his first game since joining the Rockets, his first game operating as the team's only superstar, his first game since inking a fat five-year, $80 million extension and, most notably, his first game operating outside the comfortable confides of the Oklahoma City Thunder's system.
And he delivered.
Not only did Harden drop an eye-popping 37 points, but he did so on 56 percent shooting from the field overall, and 40 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Efficient only begins to describe his performance from the field.
Houston's newest face also found his niche next to his teammates rather seamlessly, already giving us a taste of "what could be" between he and Jeremy Lin in the backcourt.
Most impressive, though, was his ability to break down Detroit's defense and create opportunities for his new teammates.
His 12 assists led the team and were a career-high for the combo guard. They were also a tell-tale sign of the playmaker Harden was never truly allowed to be an Oklahoma City.
We all knew Harden could dish—perhaps even better than Russell Westbrook—but he exuded truly superior playmaking abilities that have helped him begin to justify his new contract.
He also found his touch as a pillar. Houston was down 11 points early in the fourth quarter, a time where the ball would have been put in the hands of Kevin Durant or Westbrook in Oklahoma City.
But this wasn't Oklahoma City, it was Detroit, and Harden was playing—and leading the way—for Houston.
He hit a three to spark a 25-6 run and the Rockets never looked back, outscoring the Pistons by 18 points in the fourth to snag a 105-96 victory on the road.
Who was the NBA's top performer on Halloween night?
Without Harden, that victory isn't actualized. Sure, Lin put up an impressive 12 points, eight assists and four steals, but it was Harden who played all but four minutes of the game, shouldering the entire offensive burden.
From his defense to his distributing to his scoring to his leadership, everything just clicked last night for Harden.
"I just have to be a leader out there," Harden said (via Dana Gaurauder of NBA.com).
Well, on a night where he officially began his time with a new team, under a new contract, assuming a new role, we saw a new leader.
We saw a new Harden.
Which was a sight we certainly could—and should—get used to.
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