The idea that “James Harden is so good that he doesn’t even need to try” is mostly used to describe the efforts of last season’s MVP on offense. In fact, Harden’s defense throughout his career has been somewhat of a detriment to how he’s viewed as a player. But his typical defensive demeanor came in handy on Friday during the Rockets’ 136-105 win over the San Antonio Spurs. Clearly frustrated with DeMar DeRozan bumping into him during a layup attempt, Harden gave a petty swipe towards the driving player and created a beautiful (and accidental) defensive highlight.
But last night’s efforts weren’t all about Harden’s defensive mastery. He was able to drop 23 points (on 20 shots), 10 assists and seven rebounds in a dismantling of their in-state opponents that snapped a four-game losing streak. We also saw a bit of the Rockets’ potential peak for the season with Chris Paul’s return from injury, and Eric Gordon’s momentary return to form. After the loss, Spurs point guard Patty Mills told reporters that some members of the team felt “embarrassed and deflated.” That comment most likely was in reference to San Antonio losing back-to-back games by 30 points or more for the first time in the Gregg Popovich era, but it’s hard to imagine that Harden accidentally stumbling into a smart defensive play didn’t factor into it at all.