James Harden finally got his W, and man he did it in style. After spending large chunks of their game against the Houston Rockets coming from behind, Harden and the LA Clippers managed to claw their way to the victory. Even more satisfying for Harden will be the knowledge that he was the one who hit the shot that won them the game.
With the game tied at 100, Harden got into a spot he’s been in so many times before in his career. After passing the ball to Kawhi Leonard, who dribbled down the clock a little bit, Harden got the ball back with just under 10 seconds left in the game. After a quick dribble and then setback, Harden launched a three-point attempt that baited Jae’Sean Tate into jumping in for a contest. That of course failed, and to make things worse, Tate didn’t give Harden any landing space as he got called for the shooting foul as Harden’s attempt went into the net.
It was almost poetic, considering how much shit everyone (including me) has given Harden and the Clippers since their struggles began. Harden getting to play the hero in front of his home crowd must have lifted such a big weight off of his shoulders. He also filled the stat sheet in the game with 24 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and a block while shooting a hyper-efficient 8 of 11 from the floor.
That effort was just enough to back up Leonard, who led the team with 26 points, rebounds, two assists, five steals and a block while hitting 8 of 16 shots. As much as his points were great, Leonard’s biggest contribution may have been his hilarious description of the pivotal play of the game.
Paul George struggled from the field and hit 8 of 22 shots but he still finished with 23 points, eight rebounds, three assists two steals and a block. More importantly, he and Leonard were part of the key defensive possessions that afforded them a chance late in the game.
Russell Westbrook also showed a new side to himself in the game, insisting on coming off the bench to help the Clippers’ three leading men build more chemistry. It was a great sign of maturity from Westbrook, who understands that he may no longer be the leading man but also has the very best chance of his career to win a title since he teamed up with Harden and Kevin Durant and reached the 2012 NBA Finals. The Clippers faithful sure did appreciate his gesture, too.
Things can turn around pretty quickly in an NBA season, especially one that still has this much runway left in it. The Rockets are no joke this season, as their six-game winning streak heading into the game consisted of blowout wins over the Kings (twice), New Orleans Pelicans and LA Lakers along with a convincing win against the Charlotte Hornets and a narrow victory against the defending champion Denver Nuggets.
It’s too early to tell whether or not the Clippers have really turned the corner. For now, though, let’s give Harden a little bit of time to enjoy his first victory for his fourth team in three years.