The MVP arms race between Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook and Houston Rockets guard James Harden hit a new level Saturday night. A week after Westbrook put up a 45-point, 11-rebound, 11-assist performance, James Harden raised the bar to a whole new level. Harden's performance vs. the Knicks in a 129-122 victory on New Year's Eve:
A career-high 53 points, 16 rebounds and 17 assists, which ties a career high.
Harden not only put up that mind-blowing stat line, but did so on 14-of-26 shooting and 9-of-16 from the 3-point line. It ties Isaiah Thomas for the fewest shots in a 50-point performance this season, and is tied for the fourth-least shots necessary to get to 53 in NBA history. Not only that, but no player has ever put up a 50-15-15 (let alone 53-16-17) since such statistics are traceable, which is 1984 via Basketball Reference. And on top of everything else, Harden did so on the second night of a back-to-back.
Many have wanted to crown Westbrook as the presumptive MVP for what he has done in averaging a triple-double and Westbrook is certainly worthy of that honor halfway through the season. But the race is not over, and Harden has to be accounted for in any such conversation given this was his eighth triple-double, and that he's averaging 28.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 12 assists per game, on a team that continues to hang with the top teams in the West. (Houston is now just two games behind San Antonio for the No. 2 seed, at 27-6.)
This performance was only possible because the Knicks hung in the game, even without Kristaps Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony. Porzingis missed the game with injury and Anthony tweaked his knee in the first half.
There is an epic NBA MVP race shaping up, and these kinds of performances seem to be the norm rather than the exception in what has been a statistically bonkers season already. Harden just made history, and took it to a whole other level. Now we're left to wonder, how will Westbrook possibly top that?