James Harden climbed up the NBA record books on Saturday night by scoring his fourth-career 60-point game, and he only needed three quarters to do it.
In a 158-111 blowout over visiting Atlanta, Harden sat out the entire fourth quarter after tying Michael Jordan for third on the career list for 60 point games. Only Wilt Chamberlain (32) and Kobe Bryant (six) have more.
"That's a great list right there. Those guys are something that I'm trying to get to," Harden said in a postgame television interview. "Hopefully when it is all said and done, I can be mentioned in that group forever."
Harden made 16 of 24 field-goal attempts, including 8 of 14 from three-point range, setting a record for the fewest field-goal attempts ever in a 60-point game.
The previous mark was 26 by Karl Malone, who did so while scoring 61 in 1990. Harden also hit 20 of 23 free-throw attempts.
"It's like everything else he does - unbelievable," Houston coach Mike D'Antoni said.
The MVP of the 2017-2018 season came one point shy of matching his career-high and franchise record, despite the reduced minutes. Harden is the only active player who has scored 60 points more than once.
"What he's doing has not been seen," team-mate Austin Rivers said. "My man had 60 and didn't play the fourth quarter. Name another player who could do that right now."
The Rockets were missing starters Clint Capela and Danuel House because of illnesses, but still had no trouble handling an Atlanta team that hasn't won since November 12, thanks to Harden's huge night.
"We try to do what we have to do against James, which is throw a lot of bodies at him," Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. "Try and put him under duress. He just didn't feel us."
Atlanta was never really in this one and was down by 20 points or more for most of the game. The flat effort came a night after the Hawks fell by one point in overtime to the Pacers in a game where Trae Young tied career highs with 49 points and eight three-pointers.
Young led the Hawks with 37 points and had five three-pointers, but it wasn't nearly enough to offset Harden's game.
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After the third quarter, Harden was sitting on the bench with a towel draped over his shoulders when he was shown on the video board with a note that said he was two points shy of setting his career-high.
Harden looked at the screen, read the note and pointed at it while opening his mouth wide in fake shock as if to say: "I was so close," before smiling broadly.
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"Yeah I was playing with the fans a little, but honestly I didn't know," he said. "But we played a really good game those first three quarters so it was an opportunity for other guys to play minutes that they've earned."
There were a few half-hearted chants of: "Harden! Harden!" midway through the fourth quarter from fans who hoped to see Harden come back in to make Rockets history. But D'Antoni kept the bearded superstar on the bench with the game well in hand.
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Harden became just the third player in 25 seasons to have 60 points in three quarters, joining Klay Thompson in 2016 and Bryant in 2005. Saturday was the 20th 50-point game of Harden's career, which is the fourth-most in NBA history and eight more than any other active player.
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