There were six games played in the NBA Thursday night, including a matchup between two of the NBA’s best teams in Oklahoma City and a pivotal Northwest Division battle in Denver. But the star of the night was none other than Rockets guard James Harden, who in Dwyane Wade’s final trip to Houston (barring a matchup in the NBA Finals) stole the show. Here’s a look at some of the key happenings Thursday, with Bojan Bogdanovic, Karl-Anthony Towns and Tobias Harris among the other standouts in the Association.
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With Kenneth Faried and Eric Gordon both ruled out due to injury, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni only used eight players in Thursday’s game against the Heat. And that would be more than enough, thanks to the performance put on by Harden. The Beard lit up Miami for 58 points (16-of-32 FGs, 18-of-18 FTs), ten assists, seven rebounds, four steals, one blocked shot and eight 3-pointers as Houston won by a final score of 121-118. This was the seventh game of Harden’s career in which he’s tallied at least 50 points and ten assists, the most in NBA history by four games. Harden, the only player in league history to put together a game of at least 60 points and ten assists, fell two points short of doing that for the second time in his career.
The reigning MVP’s streak of 30-point games came to an end Monday night as the Hawks “limited” him to 28, but he’s started a new streak with games of 30 and 58 points since. In the four games he’s appeared in since the All-Star break, Harden’s averaging 36.5 points, 6.8 assists, 5.3 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 2.8 three-pointers per game, and his scoring output would be significantly higher if he weren’t shooting just 22.4% from three.
Of the seven Rockets who scored Thursday night, four finished in double figures. Austin Rivers, who made seven of his eight shot attempts, finished with 17 points, two rebounds, two assists and three 3-pointers, with Chris Paul and Gary Clark adding 14 points apiece. Clark had not appeared in a game since February 11, and prior to Thursday he had not scored a point since January 19 (six points in a win over the Lakers).
Bojan Bogdanovic continues to flourish
When the Pacers lost their All-Star guard Victor Oladipo to a ruptured quad tendon on January 23, the general consensus was that Nate McMillan’s team would eventually fade in the Eastern Conference standings. That hasn’t happened, as the Pacers have continued to compete and multiple players have raised their production. One such player is Bojan Bogdanovic, who entered Thursday’s game against Minnesota averaging 20.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.1 3-pointers per game with shooting splits of 51.1/38.6/81.1 since Oladipo’s injury (15 games). He was even better in the Pacers’ 122-115 win over the Timberwolves, playing 30 minutes and posting a stat line of 37 points (13-of-22 FGs, 7-of-9 FTs), seven rebounds, four assists and four 3-pointers.
The 37 points are a career-high for Bogdanovic, who surpassed the 30-point mark for the second time this season. His numbers haven’t exactly translated from a fantasy standpoint, as he’s ranked 98th in the league in nine-category leagues over the last two weeks according to Basketball Monster. Yet even with that being the case, there’s no denying the fact that Bogdanovic’s play is one reason why Indiana is still in a position where it would have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs if the season ended today. Also worth noting for the Pacers is the play of forward T.J. Leaf, who scored a career-high 18 points (7-of-12 FGs, 3-of-3 FTs) with three rebounds, one steal, one blocked shot and one three-pointer in 22 minutes played. Leaf has put together solid efforts in consecutive games, as he accounted for nine points and seven boards in a loss to Dallas Wednesday night.
Pacers eventually slow down Karl-Anthony Towns
Timberwolves power forward/center Karl-Anthony Towns appeared to be headed towards a historic night, as he lit up Indiana for 23 points in the first quarter. While the All-Star big man would finish the game with 42 points, he was made to work a lot harder for his points in the final three quarters. The Pacers made some changes, sending double-teams at Towns as often as it could while also calling upon veteran Thaddeus Young to be the primary defender. Towns finished the game with 42 points, 17 rebounds, four assists and three 3-pointers, shooting 15-of-29 from the field in the 122-115 defeat.
In the three games he’s played since missing two due to a concussion, KAT is averaging 37.7 points, 18.7 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.3 blocks per outing while shooting 68.2% from the field, 57.9% from three and 66.7% from the foul line. The problem for Minnesota on the offensive end Thursday night: no one else scored more than 13 points with Andrew Wiggins shooting 4-of-14 from the field and tallying 11 points.
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Tobias Harris scores 32 as Sixers hold off Thunder
Since being acquired from the Clippers at the trade deadline, forward Tobias Harris has done what the 76ers expected of him when the move was made. In eight games with the team he’s averaging 21.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.6 three-pointers per while shooting 55.1% from the field, 42.0% from three and 82.8% from the foul line. And his most recent appearance was his best to date, as Harris scored 32 points (11-of-19 FGs, 5-of-5 FTs) with five rebounds three assists, one blocked shot, one steal and five 3-pointers in Philadelphia’s 108-104 win in Oklahoma City. Harris has scored at least 20 points in each of Philadelphia’s last four games, which were all played without Joel Embiid (knee), and he’s averaging 26.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.3 blocks and 3.3 three-pointers per game during this stretch. Outside of scoring, the biggest differences for Harris with Embiid out of the lineup have been the assists (3.5 apg in the four games played with Embiid) and blocks (0.5 bpg).
Jimmy Butler added 20 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and two steals, and Ben Simmons posted his ninth triple-double of the season with 11 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists, two steals and two blocked shots. All five starters scored in double figures, with Jonah Bolden scoring 14 points and JJ Redick 12 (despite shooting 3-of-13 from the field). Bolden’s 14 points are the most he’s scored in a game since January 15.
Jazz keep Nikola Jokic under wraps in comeback win
The task of slowing down Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic is much easier said than done, as the MVP candidate has knack for making opponents play to his pace. However Thursday night the visiting Jazz had the answers for Jokic, as Rudy Gobert (16 points, eight rebounds, four blocks and one assist) and Derrick Favors (15 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and one steal) combined to defend the All-Star as well as any team has all season long in Utah’s 111-104 victory. The Joker did manage to post a double-double, finishing with 16 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists, but he had to work very hard to get those numbers. He shot 5-of-15 from the field, and Jokic turned the ball over five times as well. In Denver’s four games after the All-Star break the 7-footer is averaging 23.3 points, 12.8 rebounds and 7.0 assists per with shooting splits of 44.4/41.7/80.0, with Utah being the first of those four opponents to find a way to truly keep him under wraps.
Offensively the Jazz got off to a slow start, which was to be expected given the team’s injury issues at the point. Both starting point guard Ricky Rubio and backup Raul Neto missed the game due to injury, meaning that the playmaking responsibilities fell to Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles. After a rough first quarter both got going in the second, with Mitchell finishing the night with 24 points, eight rebounds and five assists and Ingles adding 15 points, ten assists, four rebounds, two steals and one blocked shot. Add in a 22-point night from Kyle Korver, who shot 6-of-10 from three, and Utah was able to produce enough offensively to pick up an important road victory. Jamal Murray and Will Barton led the Nuggets with 21 points apiece, with Barton also tallying 13 rebounds, three assists, two blocked shots and one steal.
Russell Westbrook posts another triple-double
With Paul George out of the lineup for Thursday’s game against Philadelphia due to a right shoulder injury, Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook had to do even more of the heavy lifting with regards to scoring. He shot 8-of-24 from the field (1-of-9 from three) on the night, finishing with 23 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, one steal and one blocked shot in 38 minutes of action, with Oklahoma City’s late rally falling short. The triple-double is Westbrook’s 26th of the season and his fist since the Thunder’s last game before the All-Star break, as he went three straight games without one (the horror…#sarcasm). The 2017 NBA MVP may not be shooting the ball particularly well this season, but his aggressiveness still opens things up for his teammates.
One of the beneficiaries has been Jerami Grant, who racked up 23 points (10-of-17 FGs), six rebounds, one blocked shot and two 3-pointers in 37 minutes. With George out those shots were going to be taken by someone, with Grant and Markieff Morris (17 points, four rebounds) combining to attempt 29 shots. Grant, who scored 21 points in Tuesday’s loss to Denver, has now scored 20 points or more in consecutive games for the first time this season and he’s been a top-25 player in nine-category leagues over the last two weeks.