HOUSTON (Texas) • James Harden has a trademark "nosebleed" celebration whenever he makes a dunk, but the Houston Rockets guard chose to do something different on Thursday night.
Early in the National Basketball Association (NBA) home game against the Los Angeles Lakers, he sped past Lonzo Ball, dashed down the lane and threw down a massive dunk over JaVale McGee and left the centre sprawling across the floor.
Harden then flexed both arms and snarled.
That first-quarter dunk and his reaction to it was perhaps an indication to his teammates, and crucially to the Lakers, of what was to come.
He ended with a monster 50-point triple-double to power the Rockets to a 126-111 victory over LeBron James and Co.
Harden, the NBA's reigning Most Valuable Player, added 11 assists and 10 rebounds for his second triple-double of the season and his second 50-point game of what has been a frustrating campaign for the Rockets so far.
"I was like, 'Wow'!" Rockets centre Clint Capela said on ESPN.
I was like, 'Wow'! I've never seen James like that, especially flexing after a dunk. Is that a new James in front of me or what? I've never seen him like that in five years. That was something - and it sent a message to everybody.
CLINT CAPELA, Rockets centre, on teammate James Harden's fierce reaction after a dunk.
"I've never seen James like that, especially flexing after a dunk. Is that a new James in front of me or what? I've never seen him like that in five years. That was something - and it sent a message to everybody."
According to statistics compiled by ESPN, Harden is one of only six players in NBA history to score 50 in a triple-double.
His feat on Thursday also broke the record. He now has four 50-point triple-doubles, one more than Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook.
Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor had two each, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Richie Guerin each hit the rare statistical milestone once.
Houston led the league last season with 65 regular-season wins, but came into the contest next-to-last in the Western Conference.
They gained a spot as they continued to claw their way back towards .500, improving to 13-14.
Despite his achievement, Harden was not happy with his team's struggles.
"Honestly, we're in a hole right now," he said. "You look at the standings, we're in the 14th spot (before their win) - it's kind of depressing. But we've got to figure it out."
He added that early-season injuries and the addition of new players contributed to the shaky start to the season, but he remained confident the Rockets can still be a force.
"I just believe and trust in all my guys," he said. "We'll continue to build."
Chris Paul added 14 points and nine assists for the Rockets, Capela chipped in 16 points and 14 rebounds and Danuel House added 15 points off the bench.
James led the Lakers with 29 points and Kyle Kuzma added 24, but the Lakers (17-11) saw a two-game winning streak end.
James rued his team's inability to contain Harden, especially on the free-throw line when the Rockets star went 18-of-19.
"You can't put him on the line," the Lakers forward said.
"We put him on the line 20 times. He's already talented offensively. Can put the ball in the hole multiple ways - drive, step-back threes...
"But you give him easy points when you put a guy like that on the line for 20 free throws.
"You can't put any of our (big) scorers that we have in our league on the line 20 times because they just see the ball go in the hole."