James Harden scores 60 points in three quarters as Houston Rockets dominate Atlanta Hawks

James Harden is a threat to make history every time he steps on an NBA court. The former MVP is averaging 37.7 points per game this season, but if his goal is to become the first player since Wilt Chamberlain to average 40, he took a big step towards it on Saturday. 

Harden scored 60 points on 16-of-24 shooting. The catch? He did so in only three quarters. With his Houston Rockets leading the Atlanta Hawks by 54 points after 36 minutes, Houston had no need to put him back in the game to push his total any higher. 

The first half, by Harden's standards, was relatively innocuous. He scored 31 points, obviously an enormous number, but nothing overwhelmingly out of the ordinary with a scorer like Harden. And then the third quarter rolled around, and Harden dropped an additional 29 points. There was just nothing Atlanta could do to slow him down. 

Harden dominated Atlanta from all over the court. His eight 3-pointers were the second-most he had made in a game this season, and he sank 20 free throws to push his scoring total even higher. Harden left the game after the third quarter, but only two points away from his career-high and within range of Kobe Bryant's non-Chamberlain record of 81, he seemed to want to finish the game and chase history. 

He may not have achieved those two particular historical marks, but that doesn't make what he did any less rare. This is Harden's fourth 60-point game in total, putting him behind only Chamberlain (32), Bryant (6) and Michael Jordan (5) on the all-time list. Harden's 31 minutes are the second-fewest any player has ever played in a 60-point game, trailing only Klay Thompson, who played 29 in a 60-point game in 2016. 

Three of Harden's four 60-point games have come in the last calendar year, coinciding with Houston's decision to tilt essentially their entire offense in his direction. The only other player to have as many as three 60-point games in a calendar year was Chamberlain. 

Harden hardly could have asked for a better defense to do this against. The Hawks are ranked 26th in defense this season and have no perimeter defenders capable of hanging with Harden or rim-protectors able to deter him from attacking. Still, 60 points in three quarters would have been incredible even against a high-school defense. Getting to 60 points at all is a remarkable achievement. Doing it in three quarters is utterly absurd. As the NBA continues to obsess over younger players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic, Harden just reminded MVP voters that he is still very much in the mix for this year's award. 

Sam Quinn joined CBS sports as a basketball writer in 2019. Prior to that, he wrote for 247Sports and Bleacher Report. He is a New York native and NYU graduate who also has roots in Florida and California. Full Bio

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