The reigning MVP wasted no time extending his 30-point scoring streak Wednesday night, putting himself in territory only Wilt Chamberlain had ever seen before.
Harden scored a career-high 61 points, tying Kobe Bryant’s mark for a visiting player at the current Madison Square Garden, as the Rockets edged the New York Knicks114-110.
“This is one of the historical buildings in the sport that we have,” Harden said. “Obviously, the fans are one of the best that we have in this league. And so it’s pretty cool to come out here and put on a show for them.”
Harden made the clinching layup with 3.8 seconds remaining after the Knicks turned it over, capping his fifth 50-point game this season and a wild stretch of back-and-forth basketball across the final minutes.
Playing at Madison Square Garden and in front of its fans was special for James Harden. “I’m just happy to give them 61,” he said.
Eric Gordon made the go-ahead 3-pointer with 9.8 seconds left when Houston couldn’t get the ball to Harden, the NBA’s leading scorer who earlier had moved past Wilt Chamberlain into fourth place in NBA history with his 21st consecutive 30-point game.
Chamberlain still has all three 30-point streaks that were longer. His record is 65 straight, and he also had streaks of 31 and 25 games.
Harden finished 17-of-38 from the floor on Wednesday. He was only 5-of-20 on 3-pointers but 22-of-25 from the line, and he grabbed 15 rebounds. Harden is the first player in NBA history to attempt 20 3s and 20 free throws in a game and the fifth player in league history with multiple career 60-point games.
“The guy is just good,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said with a smile.
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Harden noted afterward that he heard both boos and cheers from the MSG crowd at different points throughout his historic night.
“They couldn’t figure out what they wanted to do,” he said with a laugh. “I appreciate them, honestly. Tonight, they kept me going and made the game exciting for me. … That’s why this place is special. I’m just happy to give them 61.”
Carmelo Anthony holds the overall record at the current MSG with 62 points.
Harden had surpassed his average of 35.7 points by halftime, putting back the miss of his own shot to beat the buzzer and give himself 36 points and nine rebounds.
The 2018 MVP has 261 points in his past five games — the second most by any player in a five-game span over the past 50 seasons, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. Kobe Bryant had 268 points in a five game-span in March 2007.
Harden hasn’t been assisted on a field goal in the past five games (76 FGM).
D’Antoni suggested after the game that the manner in which Harden scored could be a challenge for his teammates.
“Sometimes it’s a little hard for the other guys because he scores every time,” the coach said. “We just have to be mentally tough and strong and enjoy what he’s doing.”
ESPN’s Ian Begley and The Associated Press contributed to this report.