Rockets news: James Harden on stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo
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Rockets’ James Harden sends strong message to critics after stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo

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Fans and pundits were quick to praise Houston Rockets superstar James Harden after putting on an uncharacteristic defensive clinic against reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday.

But as far as The Beard is concerned, there was nothing out of the ordinary of his performance that led to the Rockets’ 120-116 statement team against the team with the best record in the league.

Despite being dwarfed by the much bigger Antetokounmpo, Harden put on the defensive clamps against Giannis at crunch time to help seal the victory.

Speaking to reporters post-game, the 8-time All-Star downplayed his supposed intent to send a message by holding down his fellow MVP contender.

James Harden further evaded the subject when asked how hard it was to try and contain Giannis, particularly when play slowed down in the fourth.

Regardless of Harden’s decision to downplay his stellar defensive showing, it must feel great for the Rockets star to one-up his rival on this one.

The two MVPs have figured in a heated back-and-forth over the last few months after Harden proclaimed that he should have won his second straight MVP plum last year — which of course went to Giannis.

The Greek Freak has responded by thrashing Harden’s supposed lack of D to the media, while Harden fired back by criticizing Giannis’ supposed lack of skill set.

Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, still came out with the better individual outing on Sunday, finishing two assists shy of a triple-double with 36 points, 18 rebounds, and eight assists in 33 minutes. Harden had a tough night shooting the ball but still recorded 24 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and six steals.

The Rockets have now won their first two games inside the bubble and improved their record to 42-24. They also moved to fourth place in the Western Conference, overtaking the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz.