SALT LAKE CITY — During the pregame player introductions, a shower of boos flooded Vivint Arena from Saturday’s sellout crowd once James Harden’s name was announced.
Even on the second night of a back-to-back, in the high-altitude markets of Denver and Utah, the Houston Rockets star continued his historic scoring run.
“I just go out there and hoop,” Harden said.
Harden stretched his 30-point scoring streak to 26 consecutive games with 43 points, 12 rebounds, six steals, five assists and four blocks on 12-for-22 shooting in Houston’s 125-98 win against the Utah Jazz. He also went 15-for-15 at the free throw line.
The reigning MVP now only trails Wilt Chamberlain, who still owns the No. 1 (65) and No. 2 (31) spots on the all-time list of consecutive 30-point games in league history.
“It was a must-win for us. They had us on the season series, 2-1, we lost two in a row, so it was a must-win for us and we came out here and played like it,” Harden said. “Defensively, we got after it, offensively we moved the basketball and everybody played well but that’s the effort that it’s going to take from us on every single night.”
Harden is currently averaging 36.2 points for the season, which is the seventh-highest mark in league history if he’s able to sustain it.
He averaged 43.6 points for the entire month of January, including a career-best 61-point outburst at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Jan. 23, which was also the most in a calendar month since Chamberlain’s 45.8 points per game in March 1963.
“It’s unbelievable the stuff he’s really doing but he’s so locked in, he puts the work in, he’s leading us in the right direction,” said Gerald Green, who also nailed seven triples off the bench for 25 points. “Our job is to let him lead and follow him and let him take us to where we need to go to.”
Prior to the matchup, the Jazz knew the contest against Houston would be tough even after beating Atlanta 128-112 on Friday night and the Rockets falling at Denver, 136-122.
“He’s very difficult to guard and he’s so efficient to be as aggressive as he is right now and also to be as efficient and poised,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of Harden. “It’s not like he’s coming down and it never feels like he’s selfish, it just feels like he’s making the right play all the time and a lot of times the right play is just him shooting the ball. He’s playing at a level that is rare.”
Houston was playing without veteran floor general Chris Paul, who was resting after recently returning from a five-week, 17-game absence. The Rockets were also playing without starting center Clint Capela, who won’t return until after the All-Star break while recovering from a right thumb surgery.
Utah was still without Dante Exum (left ankle sprain), Raul Neto (left groin strain) and Thabo Sefolosha (mild right hamstring strain), too.
For matchup purposes, Snyder went with Jae Crowder in the starting lineup at forward instead of Derrick Favors. Crowder last started on Jan. 21 versus Portland and posted 11 points with five rebounds and four steals in the starting role.
Donovan Mitchell scored a team-best 26 points after an ice-cold start to go along with nine assists and six rebounds on 7-for-24 shooting. As a team, the Jazz shot 36 percent, while trailing by as many as 29 points on the night in their fourth and final regular season matchup against the Rockets.
Houston and Utah split the series, 2-2.
Favors swatted a season-high five shots in addition to four points as Rudy Gobert added 10 points and 13 rebounds with two blocks and Royce O’Neale contributed 10 points and six rebounds off the bench. The Jazz turned the ball over 20 times.3 comments on this story
On a positive note, the Jazz did host their 5 For The Fight Night to continue to raise awareness and funds for cancer research. During the third quarter, fans were encouraged to light the arena with their cell phones in support of the cause.
Utah (30-24) will return home to face the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday, Feb. 6 while Harden will look to continue his legendary scoring run at Phoenix on Monday, Feb. 4.
“James is one of the best offensive players in the world and he’s playing great right now and I think we were a little too passive and a little too scared of him, I would say, even though we’re not scared of him,” Gobert said. “We gave everything up basically.”