HOUSTON (Texas) • James Harden gave a performance on Saturday night that was enough to make even those who see him put up gaudy numbers night after night step back and marvel at his work.
The Houston guard scored a season-high 60 points in 31 minutes and the Rockets sent the struggling Atlanta Hawks to their 10th straight National Basketball Association (NBA) loss with a 158-111 romp.
"It's like everything else he does - unbelievable," his coach Mike D'Antoni said.
Harden came one point shy of matching his career high and franchise record on a night he made eight three-pointers and 20 free throws. He watched the entire fourth quarter from the bench with Houston up 127-73 at the end of the third period.
"What he's doing has not been seen," teammate Austin Rivers said.
"My man had 60 and didn't play the fourth quarter. Name another player who could do that."
It was Harden's fourth career 60-point game, tying him with Michael Jordan for third-most in NBA history, trailing only Kobe Bryant (six) and Wilt Chamberlain (32). He is also the only active player who has scored 60 points more than once.
But, as usual, he was not interested in talking about reaching 60 points while spending an entire quarter on the bench. "Nope," he said, before walking off.
The Rockets (13-6) were missing Clint Capela and Danuel House because of illnesses, but still had no trouble handling the Hawks (4-16), who have not won since Nov 12.
Number of 60-point games in James Harden's career.
"We try to do what we have to do against James, which is throw a lot of bodies at him," Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said.
"Try and put him under duress. But he just didn't feel us."
Trae Young led Atlanta with 37 points and had five three-pointers, but it was not nearly enough to offset Harden's game.
The Rockets raced out to a 14-5 lead and had stretched their advantage to 81-52 by half-time behind 31 points from Harden.
As good as the 2018 NBA Most Valuable Player was in the first two quarters, it was nothing compared with how he dominated in the third period.
Houston were up 83-56 early in the quarter before he scored all of the team's points in an 18-3 run that made it 101-59 with seven minutes left in the period.
He had eight assists, three rebounds, three steals and one block to go along with his 60-point effort.
After the third quarter, he sat on the bench with a towel draped over his shoulders when he was shown on the video board with a note that said he was two points shy of setting a career high.
He looked at the screen and opened his mouth wide in fake shock as if to say "I was so close", before smiling broadly.
"Yeah I was playing with the fans a little, but honestly I didn't know," he said.