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 (1962) for the second-longest such streak in NBA history.
Harden took no solace in his offensive performance. The Rockets are now 0-2 against the Timberwolves this season. Houston is 16-6 overall when Harden scores 40 or more; the Rockets are 21-10 during his 30-point streak.
“We lost, man,” Harden said when asked about his 42 points. His answers to other questions about the Rockets’ defensive struggles and intensity issues were clipped.
Unlike the previous 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.
“We made it hard on James,” Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns said. “Got a little spooky at the end. He’s one superb talent in the league. But for the most part, we did a great job. And I think Josh Okogie was fantastic. Our rookies stepped up in a big way.”
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 Minnesota’s 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 baskets in the third quarter before sealing his 30-point performance.
After the game, Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said the loss hinged on the Rockets’ defensive woes.
“Our offense is the least of our problems,” he said.
The streak was barely mentioned in the Houston locker room after the game as the players dressed quietly.
“We sucked on the defensive end tonight,” point guard Chris Paul said.
Harden would have to keep scoring at this rate for 34 more consecutive games to catch the NBA’s 30-point record of 65 straight games, also held by Chamberlain (1961-62).