Harden joins Klay Thompson and Kobe Bryant as the only players to hit 60 points in just three quarters.
He exited with the Rockets up 127-73 at the end of three, having gone 16-of-24 from the field, 8-of-14 from three-point range and 20-of-23 at the free throw line in just 31 minutes.
His 24 shot attempts are the fewest ever in a 60-point game in NBA history.
It was his fourth career 60-point game, tying him with Michael Jordan for third-most in NBA history, trailing only Kobe Bryant (six) and Wilt Chamberlain (32). Harden is the only active player who has scored 60 points more than once.
The Rockets were missing starters Clint Capela and Danuel House Jr. because of illnesses, but still had no trouble handling an Atlanta team that hasn’t won since Nov. 12 thanks to Harden’s huge night.
The Rockets raced out to a 14-5 lead and stretched their advantage to 81-52 by halftime behind 31 points from Harden for their third 80-point first half in franchise history.
But as good as Harden was in the first two quarters, it was nothing compared to how he dominated in the third quarter.
Houston was up 83-56 early in the period before he scored all of the team’s points in an 18-3 run that made it 101-59 with 7 minutes left in the period.
Harden made three 3-pointers and was fouled on 3-point attempts three other times in that stretch. He had eight assists, three rebounds, three steals and blocked a shot to go along with his 60-point effort. He finished as a +50.
After the third quarter, Harden was sitting on the bench with a towel draped over his shoulders when he was shown on the video board with a note that said he was two points shy of setting his career high. Harden looked at the screen, read the note and pointed at it while opening his mouth wide in fake shock as if to say: “I was so close,” before smiling broadly.
There were a few half-hearted chants of: “Harden! Harden!” midway through the fourth quarter from a few fans who hoped to see Harden come back into the game to make Rockets history. But coach Mike D’Antoni kept the bearded superstar on the bench with the game well in hand.