It took the best game of his career to get it done.
Harden scored a career-high 46 points and Jeremy Lin added 29 as the Houston Rockets mounted a furious fourth-quarter comeback for a 122-119 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"I just told the guys on the court that we've got to do whatever it takes, we've got to get some stops together and make some shots," Harden said. "It's not going to be easy, they're a very good team. But we got some stops at the right time and guys made good shots."
Houston was down by 14 points with about seven minutes left. The Rockets used a 21-4 run to erase the deficit and take a 114-111 lead with 1:46 remaining. Harden stepped back under heavy pressure from Serge Ibaka to sink a 3 to tie it, before Lin connected on one seconds later to give the Rockets their first lead of the second half.
Harden, traded from Oklahoma City to Houston before the season, made a bucket before Ibaka made two free throws. Then came another 3 by Lin to extend the lead to 119-113.
A 3-pointer by Russell Westbrook got Oklahoma City within three points, but Lin made one of two free throws to secure the win.
It was Houston's first win this season over the Thunder, who won both previous meetings, including a 30-point win in the last matchup. The loss extended Oklahoma City's skid to three games.
"He's a phenomenal offensive force," Houston coach Kevin McHale said of Harden. "He can drive it. He's got the ability to shoot it ... to beat you off the bounce. I think he's almost unguardable off the catch."
Kevin Durant summed up the fourth quarter succinctly.
"They got hot, we got cold," Durant said. "They played defence, we didn't."
Thabo Sefolosha led the Thunder with 28 points and had six 3-pointers, both career highs. His previous career high was 22, which he reached twice, most recently in 2008.
Westbrook also scored 28 points and added 10 rebounds and eight assists. Kevin Durant had 16 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists for his second career triple-double.
Harden had struggled in the two previous games against his former team. He averaged 21 points in those games, but went only 9 for 33 from the field and made just four 3-pointers.
On Wednesday, Harden was 11 of 12 from the free throw line, made a career-best seven 3-pointers, had eight rebounds and six assists.
"He hit some tough shots," Durant said. "That's what great players do. He rode them to victory. He passed the ball well, he shot the ball well."
Thunder coach Scott Brooks didn't want to make too much out of Harden beating his former team.
"He wanted to win the game, just like we wanted to beat him and their team," Brooks said. "It was about us against them, not James against us or us against James."
Lin grabbed a steal from Westbrook and dished to Harden, who made a shot from beyond halfcourt at the third-quarter buzzer to cut Oklahoma City's lead to 92-87 entering the fourth.
The Thunder then extended the lead to 107-93 after Kevin Martin and Sefolosha hit back-to-back 3-pointers before Houston rallied.
Lin raved about Harden's performance.
"If he is not up for MVP consideration, I don't know what else he needs to do," Lin said. "He made every single big play down the stretch, and even the shots that I was able to have, they were created because of him."
Oklahoma City was up by seven points midway through the third quarter when Chandler Parsons scored six points in less than a minute to get Houston within 73-72. He made a pair of free throws before adding consecutive dunks. On the first one, Carlos Delfino stole the ball from Durant and passed to Parsons for the dunk. Lin stepped in front of a pass from Ibaka a few seconds later and found Parsons alone for the two-handed slam.
Oklahoma City was up by eight points with about 1 1/2 minutes left in the first half when Lin was given a technical for arguing a call. Durant made the free throw on the technical to put Oklahoma City's lead at 60-51.
Harden took over after that, scoring all of Houston's points in a 6-2 run to end the quarter and cut the lead to 62-57 at halftime.
Harden made four 3-pointers early to help Houston build a 34-22 lead in the first quarter. Oklahoma City scored seven straight points after that, before Harden added a pair of free throws to lead the Rockets up 36-29 at the end of the first quarter.
"I hadn't made four 3s all season in one game," Harden said. "I took some extra shots last night, that kind of helped me out with my confidence a little bit, just to get it going early — not trying to force it, but get my teammates involved and everything else was going to open up."
Parsons was helped off the court and into the locker room after twisting his right ankle near the end of the third quarter.
He returned with about 6 1/2 minutes left in the game.
NOTES: The Rockets reached agreements on two trades that will send Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich and Toney Douglas to Sacramento and Marcus Morris to Phoenix, a person familiar with the situation said Wednesday. The Rockets will receive Thomas Robinson, the No. 5 pick in last year's draft, Francisco Garcia and Tyler Honeycutt from the Kings, according to the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been announced and was still pending league approval. ... Thunder centre Kendrick Perkins missed Wednesday's game with a sprained right knee. ... Wednesday was Houston's ninth double-digit comeback win this season.
AP Sports Writer Chris Duncan contributed to this report