James Harden recorded 35 points, 11 assists, and seven rebounds while shooting 13-of-16 from the floor in an otherworldly performance to lead the Houston Rockets to a 118-103 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night.
Harden started out 9-of-9 from the floor, making shots from all over the floor and toying with any Blazer who dared try to defend him. He would never cool off as he rode a 20-point first half to another great 24 minutes of play in the second half.
LaMarcus Aldridge was outstanding for the Trail Blazers, finishing with 31 points and 11 rebounds, but it wasn't nearly enough.
Let's examine how the Rockets were able to topple Portland for the first time in three tries this season.
1. James Harden
As if there were any question as to the primary reason why Houston came out on top in this one.
Harden was absolutely sensational, not only scoring the basketball himself, but playing the role of distributor and setting up his teammates for some easy buckets. Harden tallied eight assists in the first half alone, hearkening back to his Oklahoma City Thunder days where he sometimes took on the task of being the floor general.
You knew it was an out-of-body night for Harden when, on his ninth field goal of the night, the ball took an incredibly strange bounce above the rim and somehow fell in.
The scary thing about Harden is that he is only in his fourth year. He is only going to get better.
2. Three-point shooting
Good outside shooting is becoming synonymous with the Rockets name. Two games after dropping 23 trifectas on the Golden State Warriors, Houston came out and buried 12 threes against the Blazers, shooting a fine 46 percent from long range.
Harden went 4-of-5 from distance, Chandler Parsons hit on four of his eight attempts, and Jeremy Lin went 2-for-3.
3. Near flawless execution
Just about every three the Rockets hit in this game was a result of great ball movement, and that ball movement was omnipresent throughout the entire contest.
The evidence? Houston shot 60 percent from the floor overall, a prime indicator of crisp ball movement. No matter who had the ball in their hands, they made smart decisions and would make the extra pass to find the open man.
The Rockets took care of the basketball for the most part, as well, turning the ball over only 11 times.
4. The ability to answer runs
In Houston's first two games against Portland, it had leads of 12 and 15, respectively. It squandered both, losing both contests in overtime.
That didn't happen tonight.
The Rockets built a big lead in the third period and never came close to relinquishing it. Every time the Trail Blazers would score four unanswered points, Houston would respond with four or five-point spurts of their own.
Kevin McHale's club never allowed Portland to get comfortable or gain confidence at any point during the second half, and that was absolutely vital in the victory.
5. Contesting shots at the rim
The Rockets had nine blocks tonight, four of them coming from Omer Asik. Think about that. That's 18 potential points that the Houston defense prevented.