russell westbrook-james harden-oklahoma city thunder

The NBA’s Christmas schedule was essentially engineered to showcase oft-compared stars doing battle. Kevin Durant and LeBron James in a matchup of the two best players in the world. Kyrie Irving and John Wall in a clash of All-Star point guards. Kristaps Porzingis and Joel Embiid in a meeting of young studs.

But no showdown lived up to its potential like the one between last season’s two top MVP finishers, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

After 48 minutes of close, crisp basketball, Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder prevailed 112-107 over Harden’s Houston Rockets, as both players performed like the stars they are.

Before we get to the victorious Westbrook, let’s shout out Harden, who scored 29 points (albeit on only 7-of-18 shooting, including 3-of-11 from long-range), with 14 assists and eight rebounds.

Arguably Harden’s most impressive play of the evening won’t show up on the stat sheet. In the third quarter, with Houston down three points, the MVP front-runner drove to the basket, drew a triple-team and flung a perfect pass to the perimeter as he soared out of bounds.

But as good as Harden was, Westbrook was simply a bit better. The reigning MVP put up 31 points on 12-of-24 shooting, with 11 assists, six rebounds and three steals. He outscored Harden 11-4 in the fourth quarter.

Westbrook played a key role in the game-clinching bucket, collecting the ball after Andre Roberson blocked Harden’s potential game-tying shot, then finding Roberson on the break to seal a key win.

The Thunder owe their victory to Roberson’s defense, as well as stellar performances from Paul George (24 points on 8-of-15) and Carmelo Anthony (20 points on 8-of-12), but most of all, they can thank their leader and best player, Westbrook, for prevailing in a battle of superstars.

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a writer and editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has written for The Atlantic, VICE Sports, MLB.com, SI.com and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.