The Houston Rockets on Sunday afternoon grabbed a commanding 3-1 series lead in their first-round matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder with an 113-109 win at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
In the series-changing victory, All-Star point guard James Harden had a noticeably off offensive performance scoring just 16 points on 5-of-16 shooting from the field including 0-for-7 from beyond the arc. Following the game, Harden revealed to ESPN's Lisa Salters that he was limited by an ankle injury throughout the contest.
"I rolled my ankle last game so I didn't have that same burst and explosion like I usually do," Harden said. "I don't make excuses my teammates stepped up big tonight. We came away with a big win."
James Harden also played down the significance of the injury moving forward citing that his teammates have played well in picking him up. The Rockets received just that from the pieces around Harden with Nene registering a double-double with a team-high 28 points off the bench and tied an NBA record by making 12 shots from the field without a miss along with hauling in 10 rebounds in the win.
Lou Williams and Eric Gordon also scored 18 points apiece off the bench which these three veteran players combined for 64 of the team's total 113 points. This collective offensive performance from the Rockets was able to offset another all-around outing from Russell Westbrook, who had 35 points, 14 rebounds, and 14 assists joining Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to record three consecutive playoff triple-doubles.
James Harden has proven to be quite a durable player throughout his career, in fact, he missed just one game in the regular season due to the flu while playing through a jammed wrist injury late in the year without missing any contests.
James Harden has played like a deserving MVP candidate through the first four games of the playoffs averaging 33.0 points on 43.9 percent shooting from the field with 7.8 assists and 6.0 rebounds per game. This includes scoring 30 or more points three times while nailing at least three three-pointers in such contests. James Harden was the first player to average 35-plus points in the first three playoff games since Hall of Famer Michael Jordan did so in the 1989-90 season.
The only other players to accomplish that mark were Bernard King (1983-84) and Jerry West (1964-65). Harden also needs just 44 points to surpass Moses Malone (1,089) for the second-most playoff points in Rockets' history.
James Harden has put together an MVP-caliber campaign that has in in the conversation alongside Westbrook as the frontrunners for the award. Harden finished the regular season averaging a double-double being second in the league in scoring with 29.1 points and first with 11.2 assists per game. This includes James Harden becoming the first player in NBA history have at least 2,000 points, 900 assists, and 600 rebounds in a single season.
James Harden had 29 games with at least 30 points and 10 assists, which was the highest total in a single season in league history. Harden also had at least 20 points and 10 assists 51 times this season, which were also the most in a single year dating back to the 1992-93 season. James Harden's 60 point-assist double-doubles were the highest mark by any player over that same span while posting six or more assists in all but one game this year, including at least 15 assists on 11 occasions.
James Harden was the conductor of the second-best offense in the NBA in the regular season with 115.3 points per game, which was also tied for the second-highest scoring average in team history. The Rockets scored 130 or more points 12 times, which was the second-highest total in franchise history and notched at least 100 points in a franchise-best 61 straight games while scoring under the century mark on just five occasions.
The first-round series shifts back to the Toyota Center in Houston on Tuesday night where James Harden and the Rockets will have the opportunity to advance the Western Conference Semifinals.
[Featured Image by Sue Ogrocki/AP Images]