Harden along with Jeremy Lin, who added 29 points, managed to mount an intense fourth-quarter comeback after being down 14 points with about seven minutes left in the game.
“I just told the guys on the court that we’ve got to do whatever it takes, we’ve got to get some stops together and make some shots,” Harden told reporters after the game. “It’s not going to be easy, they’re a very good team. But we got some stops at the right time and guys made good shots.”
Harden put on a shooting clinic all night long against his former teammates. Harden’s biggest shot came against the Thunder’s center, Serge Ibaka. Down 111-108 with less than two minutes remaining, Harden buried a pressured 3-pointer in the eyes of Ibaka to tie the game. Seconds later Lin connected on a three-pointer to take a 114-111 lead.
Lin secured the game with another 3-pointer and a couple of free throws down the stretch after a 3-pointer by Thunder guard Russell Westbrook.
Harden, who was traded by the Thunder before the start of the season, helped extend the Thunder’s losing skid to three games. In the previous two meetings, the Thunder had slaughtered the Rockets, including a 30-point win in their last matchup.
“He’s a phenomenal offensive force,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said of Harden. “He can drive it. He’s got the ability to shoot it … to beat you off the bounce. I think he’s almost unguardable off the catch.”
Harden seemed to find his rhythm Wednesday night. He was 11 of 12 from the free-throw line, making a career-high seven 3-pointers, to complement eight rebounds and six assists. In the previous two meetings, Harden averaged 21 points and was only 9 for 33 from the field.
“He hit some tough shots,” said Kevin Durant, who had 16 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists for his second career triple-double. “That’s what great players do. He rode them to victory. He passed the ball well, he shot the ball well.”
Harden’s performance resonated with Lin.
“If he is not up for MVP consideration, I don’t know what else he needs to do,” Lin said. “He made every single big play down the stretch, and even the shots that I was able to have, they were created because of him.”
Despite Harden’s stellar performance, he reminded the media that his confidence had been down in regards to his shooting.
“I hadn’t made four 3s all season in one game,” Harden said. “I took some extra shots last night … just to get it going early — not trying to force it, but get my teammates involved and everything else was going to open up.”
Harden and the Rockets are hopeful that the hot shooting can continue as they travel to New York to take on the Brooklyn Nets Friday.