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A True Game-Changer

February 18, 2013 1:49 am EST

On James Harden's All-Star debut and what it all means

HOUSTON - James Harden’s first career All-Star bucket fell through the hoop following a head-shaking Eurostep through the lane. Because, really, how could that singular event happen any other way? Some things are just meant to be.

In much the same way he has rapidly two-stepped his way into the hearts and minds of Houston fans since his arrival last October, Harden hopped past a helpless Luol Deng and delivered two points he won’t soon forget. He would eventually follow that up with 13 more, 11 of which came in the second half, en route to helping the Western Conference to a 143-138 win over the East. He also chipped in with six rebounds and three assists.

But those numbers are likely the least important storyline of Harden’s All-Star experience because they pale in comparison to the significance of seeing him play nearly the entire fourth quarter alongside the best players the game has today. Harden was right there, sharing the court with game MVP (and blogosphere folk hero for his postgame admission that he uses Synergy day-in and day-out) Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and Blake Griffin to close out the contest. Think about that for a moment. Contemplate what those final minutes mean.

For three straight years Rockets fans have watched All-Stars games without Houston representation and during that same span their club has also missed the playoffs every single time. Those two facts, of course, are not unrelated. Now, however, Houston not only has an All-Star, but someone worthy of playing crunch time minutes with nine of the best players on the planet. That someone is also just 23-years-old. Health permitting (pardon me while I jet off to Northern California to knock on an entire forest of redwoods), he is going to be a part of these games for a long time. In related news, the Rockets exit the All-Star break in excellent position to snap their postseason drought.

It was said in this space at the time of his arrival and it bears repeating now: Harden is a game-changer. No less an authority than LeBron James dubbed him a superstar two weeks ago. Paul spoke Friday of how much fun it would be to play with a guy like Harden. Durant mentioned post-game tonight just how much he misses sharing the floor with his friend and former teammate. You get the idea: Harden’s presence has done nothing less than transform the fortunes of this team and this city’s hoop dreams.

To be sure, plenty more work remains to be done. But it’s a heck of a lot easier to see how the championship-contending puzzle comes together now that Harden is here. That was true in October but it’s even truer now because, quite frankly, he’s been even better than anyone could have predicted. The Rockets knew James Harden was All-Star caliber. Sunday night, as he has for much of this season, he showed he has the game, skill and savvy to be much, much more than that.

QUOTES

JAMES HARDEN

(on how it felt to make his All-Star debut)

It felt good to just go out there and just play with all those great players for the first time and just try to make as many shots as possible. I couldn’t make a layup but I got a couple threes to fall so it felt good.

(on the weekend as a whole)

It was a very special weekend. It being in Houston, all the fun times and laughs. The NBA Cares events, the Saturday night festivities, all the appearances, meeting different people, and the game tonight just summed it up.

(on hearing that former teammate Kevin Durant realized how much he missed playing with James after getting an opportunity to be his teammate again this weekend)

He just told me he missed me in the locker room again. I miss those guys as well. Just being with them everyday. You leave someone, you’re definitely going to miss them so this weekend was good for us just to see each other and catch up on good times.