This time, James Harden didn't even wait until the second half to make history. The Houston Rockets superstar, who has been on a scoring streak not seen since the 1960s, lit up the New York Knicks for 36 points in the first half, extending his string of 30-point games long before halftime. The 36 points tied the Rockets' record for most points in the first half, a record Harden himself set Jan. 14 against the Memphis Grizzlies. It's also the most points scored in a half by a visiting player at Madison Square Garden over the past 20 seasons. This is the fifth time Harden has scored at least 35 points in a half. The only player with more such halves over the past 20 seasons is Kobe Bryant.
Harden finished with a career high 61 points, tying Bryant for the most by a visiting player at the current version of MSG, which opened in 1968. Harden, who scored 60 almost exactly a year ago (Jan. 30, 2018 vs. the Magic), is the fifth player in NBA history to record multiple 60-point games, joining Elgin Baylor (3), Michael Jordan (4), Bryant (6) and Wilt Chamberlain (32). Harden also tied Rick Barry with his 14th career 50-point game. Only Baylor (17), Bryant (25), Jordan (31) and Chamberlain (118) had more.
Harden's 61-point game gave him 21 consecutive games with at least 30 points, passing Wilt Chamberlain for the fourth-longest streak in NBA history. Harden still trails three different Chamberlain streaks, including the record-setting 65-game run Chamberlain put up in 1961-62 -- the season he averaged an NBA record 50.4 points per game.
Amazingly, Harden continues to do all this on his own. Wednesday night was the fifth consecutive game in which all of his points came without the benefit of an assist, a span of 261 points. His last assisted basket came on Jan. 13, off a pass from Clint Capela. In that run, Harden has recorded games of 57, 58, and 61 points. No other player in the past 20 seasons has scored more than 53 points without the benefit of an assist. Harden's 261 points over his past five games are the second-most by any player in a five-game span over the past 50 seasons behind Bryant's 268 from March 16-25, 2007.
Harden's 61 points raised his season average to 36.3 points per game, which not only would be a career high but also would make him the sixth player in NBA history to average at least 35 PPG in a season -- along with Bryant, Jordan, Barry, Baylor and Chamberlain, who did so in five seasons. Harden hasn't scored fewer than 35 points since Jan. 7, when he scored 32 in a 12-point win over the Nuggets.
By scoring 61 points, Harden also extended his stretch of averaging 40 points per game to 26 games. That's the third-longest such run in NBA history, behind only Baylor (33) and Chamberlain, who kept his scoring average over 40 points for an unbelievable 515-game run. Harden has scored 1,044 points in that 26-game run. That's more than players like Donovan Mitchell (1,004), Kyrie Irving (985) and LeBron James (928) have scored all season.
With three games remaining, Harden is averaging 45.3 points per game in January. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, the only player to average 45 PPG in a calendar month is Chamberlain, who did it five times, most recently in March 1963. Last week, Harden joined Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history to record back-to-back 55-point games. Harden is the first player to score 55-plus points in a game three times in a calendar month since Chamberlain did it in January 1963.
Next up for Harden is a home game against the Toronto Raptors (Friday, 8 p.m. ET on ESPN). The Raptors have given up four 40-point games this season, including a 51-point performance by Kevin Durant in November.