James Harden Bags 41, Rockets Nab Christmas Win over Russell Westbrook, Thunder

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorDecember 25, 2018

Houston Rockets guard James Harden, right, drives to the basket as Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams, left, watches during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

James Harden had 41 points, seven assists and six rebounds, and Clint Capela had 16 points and 23 rebounds as the Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 113-109 on Tuesday at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

The Rockets’ Christmas Story ends with a win https://t.co/QENSVAPBDq

Paul George had 28 points, 14 rebounds and three steals for the 21-12 Thunder. Russell Westbrook added 21 points, nine assists and four steals.

The 18-15 Rockets won their seventh game in eight attempts.


Rockets Can't Rely on Harden to Mask Inefficiencies Long-Term

These were Harden and Capela's first-half stats: 35 points, 17 rebounds.

These were the rest of the team's stats: 15 points, 13 rebounds.

Harden and Capela shot 15-of-28 from the field, while the rest of the Rockets made just 25 percent of their field goals.

Houston was able to hang on and trailed by just eight at the half, which gave the Rockets a starting point to get back in it and pull out the win. Eventually, the rest of the team made an impact, with Austin Rivers hitting a couple of clutch threes and Eric Gordon finishing with 17 points.

However, Harden can't be the team's hero every night and lead it to wins.

First, the Rockets bench was contributing a league-low 27.3 points and 39.3 percent field-goal rate entering the game, per NBA.com.

Second, Harden's usage is through the roof right now, as he's shot 31 or more times in three of his past five games. For context, he never shot more than 30 times in any game last season. That usage doesn't seem sustainable.

Third, Harden is going to have off nights, like when he went just 7-of-23 in a 101-99 loss to the Miami Heat. He had 35 points on the night thanks to 15 free throws, but the rest of the team scored just 64 points. During games like those, the Rockets are in trouble.

Fourth, their depth is being tested even more with All-Star point guard Chris Paul nursing a strained hamstring that will keep him out for a few weeks. The issue is that the Rockets don't have any prolonged breaks from now through January 16, as they play 11 games. The team also plays every other night aside from a two-day break after New Year's Eve. Paul's absence may prove critical during this stretch.

Harden has been incredible and can certainly win back-to-back MVPs given his recent performance, but the rest of the Rockets need to play more like they did in the second half of Tuesday's win.


Thunder's Depth Solidifies Their Contending Credentials

The Thunder have a little bit of everything off their bench.

If they need some scoring punch or a ball-handler to take the load off Westbrook, they can turn to Dennis Schroder, who is averaging 16.0 points per game.

If frontcourt depth and defense are required, they can go to Nerlens Noel, who is averaging a team-leading 1.6 blocks.

And if head coach Billy Donovan needs to inject some energy into the team, he can insert rookie Hamadou Diallo, who did this against Houston:


Hamidou Diallo WAY up there for the put-back jam! #ThunderUp 37 #Rockets 34 #NBAXmas #NBAonABC https://t.co/JRCms3kIi4

That depth complements a strong, well-rounded starting lineup with a little bit of everything, too.

The X-factor here is guard Andre Roberson, who suffered a ruptured left patellar tendon last season and then an avulsion fracture during rehab.

Royce Young of ESPN.com reported that Roberson would be re-evaluated in six weeks following his November 30 report, so he'll be looked at soon. If he can get back on the court before the end of the season, he'll be a huge defensive boost to a team that's already tied for first in defensive efficiency, per ESPN.

Roberson ranked first in 2016-17 and 2017-18 in defensive real plus-minus among qualified shooting guards, per ESPN. As Doris Burke mentioned on the ESPN broadcast, Andre Roberson "is a key piece to the puzzle."

Despite the disappointing road loss, the Thunder are still 21-8 after a rough 0-4 start. While the West has proved to be tough from top to bottom this year, their well-rounded and deep team should help keep them in the conference's top four.


What's Next?

The Rockets will stay home to host the Boston Celtics on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. The Thunder will continue their three-game road trip on Friday at 9 p.m. against the Phoenix Suns.


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