In his first game with his new team, Harden had 37 points, 12 assists, six rebounds and four steals – remarkable at any time but especially since he was had only two practices with the team – leading the Rockets to a 105-96 victory over the Pistons in Detroit.
Harden was surprisingly traded from Oklahoma City, where he helped form one of the NBA’s most deadly trios with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The sides could not agree on a new contract for Harden, and the Rockets swooped in to acquire the reigning Sixth Man of the Year.
With Houston, Harden hardly is a bench player who was content with his new expanded role. And the five-year, $80-million contract extension he received with the Rockets surely helped with his happiness.
“I think I just wanted to get out there and play,” Harden said. “All the talking and all the craziness that has been happening this last week – I just wanted to go out there and play basketball.”
That is exactly what Harden did, just falling short of his career high of 40 points, but set a new career best with 12 assist.
“I just tried to score and create opportunities,” Harden said. “A lot of guys stepped up, and I think that’s how it’s going to be throughout the entire season.”
Harden started the comeback from a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit with a 3-pointer and received help from big man Greg Smith and guard Carlos Delfino. By the time they were done, Houston had a 91-87 lead.
Harden and Jeremy Lin, the much-scrutinized free agent-signee from the New York Knicks, closed out the game with a fury. Lin had 12 points and eight assists in his debut with the Rockets.
“They’re very smart players. You’ve got to give credit to them,” Smith said. “They know what they’re doing on the court. They’re very intelligent.”
Added coach Kevin McHale: ”I thought it was a challenge for James to kind of figure out what we were doing. We put some plays in that he was comfortable with that they ran at Oklahoma City.”