HOUSTON -- As the ball bounced off the rim and caromed right to him, Houston Rockets forward PJ Tucker intentionally got out of the way, screening out Cleveland Cavaliers center Ante Zizic and essentially gift-wrapping the rebound for James Harden.
It was Harden's 10th rebound of the night, clinching the reigning MVP's third 40-point triple-double in the past six games with 1 minute, 22 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The end of the period was a deadline of sorts due to the lopsided score, considering coach Mike D'Antoni had informed Harden that he would sit out the fourth quarter of the 141-113 rout Friday night.
It was a historic moment.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Harden became the first player in NBA history to record a 40-point triple-double while playing fewer than 30 minutes, as he finished with 43 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists in 29:34.
Tucker joked that Harden owed him "a date" due to his sacrifice, kidding that he wanted dinner and a movie.
"I take PJ to dinner, movies, Europe," Harden said, smiling. "I take PJ everywhere with me. He gets enough already."
That particular play was clearly an example of the Rockets being aware of a statistical milestone for Harden, who has four 40-point triple-doubles this season, while the rest of the NBA has combined for one, by Washington's Bradley Beal in a triple-overtime victory over the Suns.
Harden has accumulated many historic statistical milestones recently while in the midst of one of the best offensive stretches the league has seen. Harden, who was 12-of-24 from the floor, 8-of-16 from 3-point range and 11-of-11 from the line against the Cavs, has made at least five 3-pointers in 12 consecutive games.
"The stepback 3s -- he's perfected that," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "He's got 16 3s [attempted] and they're all stepbacks. I don't know how he does it. He's in a space about [a foot wide], everybody knows what he's doing and he still gets them off. They're not like they're forced. He's just an incredible player."
Harden's 3-point shooting has fueled his streak of scoring at least 30 points in 15 consecutive games, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Kobe Bryant and Wilt Chamberlain (five times) as the only players in NBA history to do so.
That included a run of five straight 40-point performances, matching the third-longest such streak in the past 50 years. Harden is averaging 40.5 points over those 15 games. According to Elias, the only other player who averaged at least 40 points over a 15-game stretch over the past 45 seasons was Bryant, who did it multiple times.
Most important to Harden, the Rockets have won 12 of 15 games to improve to 24-17, vaulting from second-to-last place in the Western Conference standings to the middle of the playoff picture, only 4½ games out of Houston's goal of first place.
With winning as his primary focus, Harden said he isn't able to appreciate the historic context of his production at this point.
"Nah. Nah. Nope," said Harden, whose 12 40-point triple-doubles ranks second behind Oscar Robertson's 22 in NBA history. "I don't have time to sit back and relax. I've got to keep pushing, keep going."