Featured Photo Credit: Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

From the opening tip of the Houston Rockets‘ Sunday night game against the Utah Jazz, James Harden played like a man on a mission. He went on to score a career-high 56 points, to go along with 13 assists.

Harden finished the game 19-25 from the field, 11-12 from the free throw line, and 7-8 from the three-point line. Within the first few minutes of the game, it became a safe bet that Harden was likely on route to having a special game.

In the first quarter alone, Harden had 22 points, as he shot a perfect 8-8 from the field, 2-2 from the free throw line, and 4-4 from the three-point line. His masterful first quarter performance was highlighted by this three pointer to beat the first-quarter buzzer.

 

Harden continued his hot shooting in the second quarter. He connected on a fifth three-pointer, two free throws and a step back jumper before his first miss of the game. He started the game 10-10 from the field before finishing the first half with 30 points on 10-12 shooting.

By the end of the third quarter, Harden already had a career-high 54 points on 18-21 shooting, including 7-7 from the three-point line. A layup to start the 4th extended his career-high to 56 points, before he missed his final three shot attempts.

Heading into Sunday night’s game, the Jazz ranked 2nd in the league in points allowed (allowing just 96 points per game). They also ranked 9th in the league in opponent field goal percentage (at 44.2 percent from the field). That makes it all the more impressive that Harden managed to shoot 76 percent, while the Rockets shot 59.3 percent.

With new addition Chris Paul missing his 10th straight game, Harden has done a fantastic job keeping his team afloat. The Rockets currently stand atop the Western Conference standings with an 8-3 record.

Harden has proven his ability to carry a team time and time again. This season has been no different. After finishing second in MVP voting twice in the past three seasons, Harden continues to show his value as one of the league’s elite players. He’ll likely remain in the MVP discussion for many more years to come.

Sunday night was just another reminder of what he’s capable of doing.