Harden played 44 minutes, went 14-for-25 from the field and 4-for-10 from three. The 12 assists were a career-high and the Rockets were plus-18 while he was on the floor.
Harden looked like a leader, an All-Star and an alpha dog. All of those are things we rarely if ever saw from him in Oklahoma City.
It will be impossible now, tonight more than ever for Thunder fans to not think about what could have been if Harden were still in OKC and question Sam Presti’s decision to trade him.
This was the perfect storm for Harden tonight. He played with a chip on his shoulder and he’s talented enough that that means he is going to have a big game. The Rockets’ offense is quite simply perfect for him. It’s all about the featuring the ball handler in the pick-and-roll where Harden has always been the most lethal. And they were playing the Pistons who aren’t exactly defensive stalwarts.
But nonetheless, Harden poured in one of the best games of his career tonight. It was a statement and he made it loud and clear. The Thunder will miss him and they won’t be able to replace him. He has his team now and he certainly deserves it.
Harden won’t average the numbers he put up tonight but it is safe to say that we are in for a different Harden this season. This won’t be the Harden that played 31 minutes per game and deferred to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. If you thought Harden was unleashed in the fourth quarter of Game 4 vs. Dallas last year, just wait for what we’re about to see from him this year.
Harden might not be killing it like this every night but this also won’t be the only time he makes you do a double-take at the box score. An All-Star appearance seems inevitable for Harden right now. He may even enter the MVP discussion if he continues this kind of play through the first few weeks of the season.
Great things are in store for Harden’s future. But great things are still in store for the Thunder too. They can still win the title with this core. Their chances may have taken a hit this season but they still should be better than last year and more prepared to challenge for the title.
The good news Thunder fans: we get another team to cheer for this season. It’s going to be an absolute blast watching Harden play for the Rockets this year. Whether you think he made the wrong decision or not, the best thing to do is sit back and enjoy the beautiful basketball he’s going to put on display.