James Harden

USA Today

Wednesday In The Association

All the highs and lows.

January 24, 2019 - 10:40 am

That was quite a night in the Association last night. All the highs and lows. Some of the best news. And some of the worst. Let’s start with the bad. Victor Oladipo. 

If you haven’t seen it, I don’t know if you want to. On first viewing, it doesn’t look terrible. But what does look terrible is the reaction from his teammates. 

With the Pacers up eight on the Raptors in the second quarter, Oladipo was chasing down a Toronto fast break when he went down and immediately grabbed his leg. The worst part of it isn’t the injury, it’s how the team’s medical staff responded to the injury – by covering his leg with a towel.

I’m no doctor, but that’s usually a sign that something isn’t right. You know what else is a sign that something’s not right? When your kneecap is not where it’s supposed to be. When your kneecap is in a non-kneecap location. And that’s what it looked like in the hundredth of a second before I looked away. And sure enough, Woj tweeted last night: Preliminary exam has left Pacers with fear that Victor Oladipo has suffered a season-ending knee injury that will require surgery, league sources tell ESPN. He will undergo an MRI on Thursday.

I have said for years that saying something sucks is not a take, but that sucks. For Oladipo. For the Pacers. For the league. Because he has turned himself into an All-Star and one of the best players in the league, and turned the Pacers from an after-thought into a legit team. No wonder players from all over the league were tweeting out their love and prayers for him, because they have so much respect for him. For who he is, how he plays and what he means to that team, that city and the league itself. 

Remember when everyone thought Indy got fleeced in the Paul George trade? Thanks to what Oladipo’s done, they did just fine. They did better than fine. And now he might be out for the rest of the year. And that sucks.

Honestly, you see an injury like that and it can pretty much ruin your night. A guy who’s worked as hard as Oladipo has to get where he is and then he goes down like that. 

If ever there was a night we needed James Harden to go James Harden, it was last night. Not because it was going to erase what happened to Oladipo or, but we just needed it. 

And we got it. This was the storm that everyone saw coming. James Harden in Madison Square Garden. James Harden vs. The New York Knicks. 

Maybe it’s the fact that it’s the Mecca of Basketball that brought out the best in him. Maybe it’s the fact that he was playing the Knicks, a team so bad, and so weird they could lose a game on a goaltending, that brought it out in him. Maybe it was both. 

Either way, it happened. 4 assists, 5 steals, 15 rebounds, and 61 points. Sixty-one. As in the number after sixty. As in a career-high for Harden and tying Kobe’s record for the most points by a visiting player in Madison Square Garden history.  

At this point, I’m out of words. There was a time when someone scoring 61 in a game would be three-hour stuff. That would carry the show. Now Wednesday’s 61 is a three-pointer more than what he did last Wednesday. 

Knicks coach David Fizdale said before the game that “I’m not really into that let-him-get-his stuff.” Right. Except but got his. And yours. And mine. 

And he was cooking early. 19 points in the first nine minutes before he sat down late in the quarter.

He had 36 at halftime and it looked like he could’ve named his number. 70? 80? It was all within reach. But he dialed it back a little. 

Here’s 45.

And iced it with this.

That was a filthy jam from James. And the only thing better than the dunk was the Rockets twitter account glossing him “Madison Square Harden.”  

And speaking of Madison Square Garden, the fans there had no idea what to do. They alternated between cheering for his deep bombs and booing him when he got fouled.

As Harden said afterwards: "They couldn't figure out what they wanted to do. But I appreciate them though, honestly. Tonight they kept me going and made the game exciting for me."

And doing it in Madison Square Garden makes it more special. There’s no doubt about it. My only regret is that we didn’t get to see Melo’s MSG record fall last night. Instead, Harden came up one point shy of tying it and two from breaking it. 

And no, I’m not interested in people saying it’s not a real 61 points because the Knicks are not a real NBA team. They are. And that 61 counts. 

Let’s recap what all of that means. A career high. A franchise high. His 21st straight game of 30 or more. His third game of 50. THIS MONTH. 

Check that, it’s his third game of 50 in the last week and a half. He had 57 against Memphis last Monday, 58 against Brooklyn on Wednesday, and 61 last night. There are some damn good players who never scored 50 in a game. And Harden’s done it three times since the Cowboys were knocked out of the playoffs. That’s how short a time span we’re talking about. 

That 37 he scored against Philly in three quarters on Monday looks disappointing by comparison. Some sort of letdown; that he didn’t bother showing up that night. He only had 37.

And speaking of comparisons, there really are no comparisons to what Harden is doing right now. He’s starting to move out of MJ and Kobe territory and into Stilt Territory. The numbers he’s running off are in Wilt’s category, but Wilt’s numbers are cartoons. He was dominating smaller teams in a different era. Harden is a guard. And Harden is getting zero help.

That’s not an expression of speech or an exaggeration, that’s a fact. Zero help.

Harden has 261 points in his last five games and none of them have been assisted. Not one. I’m not even sure how that’s possible. I know he’s bringing the ball up the court, but you’re telling me that none of his teammates have accidentally passed him the ball so he could shoot? They haven’t done a give-and-go or a dribble-handoff that’s set him up? Because that is amazing.

He’s is actually doing it all by himself. Or setting up other guys to do something for themselves. 

He’s doing something special and he just did it in a place that was special. And if you’ve got a problem with any of that, you’ve got a problem with yourself.  Some of you actually are acting like this guy is the worst thing about the NBA when right now, he’s far and away the best thing.