Minneapolis — Houston Rockets star James Harden put himself in rare company on Wednesday night, scoring at least 30 points in his 31st consecutive game. He is now tied with Wilt Chamberlain for the second-longest such streak in NBA history.
Harden’s dominant 42-point effort was not enough to fend off the Minnesota Timberwolves, who defeated Houston 121-111. The Rockets are 16-6 when Harden scores 40 or more. Their record during Harden’s streak is 21-10.
Unlike his last game, when it took Harden well into the fourth quarter to reach the 30-point mark, his 30th point on Wednesday came in the third quarter on a 3-pointer from the top of the key. He was fouled by Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie on the play and earned himself a trip to the free throw line.
Early on, it looked like Harden’s streak could be in trouble. He was forced to give up the ball often in the first quarter, thanks in part to Okogie’s energetic defense. Harden finished the first quarter with just five points.
An explosive 15-point second quarter put Harden back on pace to keep his streak alive. As he began to heat up from the field, fans began to boo Harden every time he touched the ball. When Okogie sat, Luol Deng was given the assignment of locking down Harden.
Before the game, Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders said part of the Wolves’ defensive strategy for Harden would be limiting his trips to the free throw line. Saunders said that even if his players keep their hands up, there is only so much they can do to limit Harden.
“For the most part, you know you are not going to stop a guy like that — fully stop him,” Saunders said. “You are not going to hold him to zero points. It would be great if you could. Playing without fouling is a big thing.”
Through the first three quarters, Harden shot just four free throws, making all four.
Harden, who was the first player back on the floor warming up after the halftime break, scored on the Rockets’ opening two third-quarter baskets before sealing his 30-point performance.
Harden would have to keep scoring at this rate for 34 more games to catch the NBA’s 30-point game record, also held by Chamberlain.