James Harden sat close to the half-court logo and shook his head in delight as the Crypto.com Arena crowd erupted after he made a side-step three that narrowly avoided the shot clock.
In addition to making his largest shot as a LA Clipper, Harden used some classic shots in the closing seconds to win his first game with the new team. With 24 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists, he had his greatest performance as a Clipper, leading LA to a 106-100 win over the Houston Rockets.
With 2:15 left, the Clippers (4-7) overcame a 99-94 deficit to end a six-game losing streak by scoring 12 of the next 13 points.
Considering that the Clippers had lost five games in a row with Harden on the court, the victory was enormous. What matters more than the victory, though, is that Harden, who did not take part in a training camp or preseason prior to the trade, is beginning to feel more like himself with every game.
Harden made 8 of his 11 field goals in the game, and he also had two important baskets in the comeback thanks to his two rim connections with Ivica Zubac. He not only made the largest shot of the game but also made plays with his ballhandling and playmaking in the closing moments.
Harden declared, “I’m getting real close.” “I’m getting close to myself every game I feel like I’m improving.”
With Harden on the team, the Clippers have shown signs of potential. Each of their three prominent scorers had spurts of dominance during the match. After a brief dip, Kawhi Leonard scored 26 points, pulled down eight rebounds, and had five steals. Paul George finished the game with eight rebounds, 23 points, and a massive block.
Following a significant roster change, the Clippers also recorded their first victory. For the first time in his Clipper career, Russell Westbrook came off the bench as the sixth guy. Ty Lue, the head coach, claimed that Westbrook came to him with a plan to stop the team’s downward trend. As of Friday’s game, ESPN Stats & Information reports that although Westbrook, Harden, George, Leonard, and Zubac had started the first five games of Harden’s Clippers career, they had been outscored by 20 points in their total 76 minutes.
Westbrook finished with eight points, three rebounds, and two assists in 17 minutes, his lowest total since joining the Clippers prior to the All-Star break last season. Westbrook departed Friday night without speaking with media.
“He wanted to do that, which [is] an ultimate sacrifice for a guy of his caliber,” said Lue. “For things he’s done in this league, the things he’s done for this team. So shout-out to Russ for wanting to do that. It’s a huge part of what we’ve talked about, just sacrificing wanting to win at a high level.”
George recognised Westbrook’s sacrifice, having pushed for the Clippers to sign his old colleague from Oklahoma City the previous season.
Harden understood Westbrook’s reasoning behind the decision as well.
“Russ sacrificed for the team and I know it was a tough decision,” Harden stated. “Obviously he wants to start, but sacrificing for the team. All in all it’s going to pay off better for us.
“So just continue to make sure everyone on this roster is playing well and we find our swag, our rhythm as a unit and individually as a team.”
George was pleased with what he observed, how he, Harden, and Leonard had our moments, and how things could go from there.
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