HOUSTON • James Harden's unreal January ended on a low on Tuesday night not because he failed to live up to his high standards - but because the Houston Rockets lost 121-116 to a depleted New Orleans Pelicans.
The guard had 37 points to extend his National Basketball Association (NBA) streak of at least 30 points to 24 games.
Despite finishing the month with an average of 43.6 points per game, which according to ESPN is the most by any player since Wilt Chamberlain's 45.8 in March 1963, Harden was irate at the manner of their "terrible loss".
He told ESPN the home defeat had been a letdown. Houston were poor from three-point range, 19 of 56, and 40 of 101 overall.
They also failed to take advantage of a Pelicans side missing four of their five starters and still reeling from the trade request of marquee player Anthony Davis on Tuesday.
The visitors were also on a poor run, having dropped five of their last six games, while Houston were coming off three straight wins.
However, New Orleans' Jahlil Okafor produced a season-high 27 points while Jrue Holiday had a fine defensive performance, posting 19 points, six rebounds, eight assists and six blocked shots.
That was enough to slow down Harden, who became the first player since Michael Jordan in March 1987 to score 600 points in a month.
Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni admitted that Holiday, the Pelicans' only regular starter, did "a heck of a job" on the reigning Most Valuable Player, saying: "Jrue is probably one of the best defenders in the league, if not the best."
The All-Star felt that despite the uncertainty surrounding Davis' future, the Pelicans had proven they "were here to play basketball".
Holiday said: "Everybody here in this locker room got here because of their ability to play. Given the opportunity, given encouragement from coaches and teammates with each other, it's pretty easy to play with these guys."
Okafor added: "The message was just to have fun, play together out there, give it your all and we can live with the outcome. We were able to come out with the W (at the Toyota Centre)."
Davis, who was sidelined by a finger injury, watched from the bench hours after the NBA fined him US$50,000 (S$68,000) because his agent's public revelation of his desire to be traded violated league rules.
"That's going to play out the way it plays out," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said before declining to comment further. "Everything that needed to be said has been said."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS