OJ Mayo and James Harden maintain a friendly rivalry that dates back to high school. On Saturday night, they had their most exciting duel to date. As Mayo’s Mavericks edged Harden’s Rockets in a narrow 116-109 victory, the two sixth-men-turned-starters combined for 79 points — 52 of which came in the first 24 minutes, and 19 of which came in the last 12 minutes. Unfortunately for Harden and his Rockets, the bulk of those fourth-quarter points belonged to the man who shares his nickname with a tasty citrus beverage.
As the game got underway, both players got off to strong starts… but Mayo exploded off the blocks like an Olympic sprinter. The NBA’s seventh-leading scorer dropped 16 in the first quarter alone, out-scoring his counterpart by five as he rained three-pointers and navigated his way to the rack. Mayo was able to establish a tangible rhythm by getting out in transition, where he walked into his first two jumpers, each of them from straightaway. Following a driving layup, Mayo pulled up for yet another transition three, then used the threat of his outside shot to split the defense and sink a floater. The progression of everything made perfect sense, and all his points came in the flow of the offense. At the end of one, Mayo had connected on six of seven attempts and the Mavericks led by 15.
Harden, on the other hand, found himself a little banged up — he’d stepped on the foot of Elton Brand and rolled his right ankle with two minutes to go in the first. Though he later told reporters that he “couldn’t move,” Harden never did leave the game… and to look at him, you never would’ve known there was a damn thing wrong. He went on to conclude his 11-point opening period with a two-handed dunk off of that same right leg… and that was just the beginning. Not about to let a little soreness have him be shown up in his own house, Harden became ultra aggressive in the second quarter. Bad wheel and all, he ended up scoring 19 points on perfect six-of-six shooting, leading Houston to a 66-63 halftime lead. The incredible period left Harden with a grand total of 30 at the break, and he’d racked up five boards and five dimes to boot. As for OJ, he’d knocked down another couple three-pointers, upping his own tally to 22.
The third quarter was the absolute antithesis of the first two. Both Harden and Mayo went cold, as did their teammates. It was at this point that I actually tuned into the game, fully expecting a show. What I got instead was a discouraging assortment of turnovers and missed shots, including a Derek Fisher one-footer that sailed about a yard. Through three, Harden had 36 to Mayo’s 24. The Rockets led 89-84 and I probably would’ve changed the channel had there been another choice that wasn’t Kings @ Blazers.
Good thing there wasn’t another choice.
Harden completely fizzled, scoring just three in the fourth… but as you can see, OJ saved his best for last. Those first two buckets came during a 17-4 Dallas run that landed them a 102-100 lead with under four minutes to play… at which point the Juice Man decided it was takeover time. Excluding a couple of meaningless free throws by Darren Collison, Mayo scored the Mavericks’ last 12 points as he connected on four of five shots and a pair of free throws in a three-minute span. His 16 points in the fourth matched his output from the first, propelling him to the 40-point milestone. It’s one which he’d reached just once before in his five-year career, when he dropped 40 on the Nuggets in November of ’09. Being that his Grizzlies lost that particular game, OJ will certainly advertise his career high as having come against the Rockets, assuming he doesn’t top it at the expense of someone else.
At $4 million a year, I’d say the Juice has been worth the squeeze for the Dallas Mavericks. Mayo’s scoring average is up to a shade under 21 PPG, and most importantly, the Mavs have moved back above .500. OJ’s playing like he wants to decline that player option for ’13/14, and I’m not even mad at him. Get that money, Juice!
Notes: Harden and Mayo combined to go 25-43 from the floor, 10-19 from downtown, and 19-20 from the stripe. Their 79 combined points are the most scored by any two players in the same game this season, and Mayo’s 40 points made him the third player to reach that mark. The last time someone had 30/5/5 at halftime as Harden did was in 2005, when Allen Iverson did it against the Bobcats.