By the time James Harden took off for the rim and reached his left arm far back as if he was wielding a mallet at the State Fair, he had already begun to roll past the Pacers and his career-long demons against them. He wanted, desperately wanted, more.

Harden had taken a steal to a 3-pointer as if running back a pick-6. He had nailed his previous quick-release 3 as if he knew he could not miss, gyrating so furiously after he nearly shook the beard off. He raced up the floor after a Pat Beverley steal and headed to the rim as if he knew the night needed one more moment, one more violent spike of a statement and exclamation point.

When Harden hammered home his slam, giving the Rockets stunning 112-86 blowout of the Pacers its signature moment, he turned and mouthed the words, “Oh. My. God.”

The Rockets had given the Pacers, the team that had smacked them with their worst of their season, the most-lopsided defeat of their season.

“That’s all we talked about, every time out, every possession, how they blew us out,” Dwight Howard said. “We didn’t want that to happen. We wanted to get payback.”

Yet, as the Rockets put together a stretch Harden would call their best on both ends of the floor, he could have been thinking of much more than just the third-quarter run to a 30-point lead.

“Always wanted to get back against them,” Harden said after scoring 16 of his 28 points in the knockout punch of a third quarter. “The third quarter was probably the best I’ve seen us play offense and defense in one quarter. We were rolling. These last weeks we’ve been rolling on both ends.”

At that moment, as the Pacers called time out the rout was certain, Harden could have been celebrating his own turnaround against the Pacers. When Harden was done for the night before the third quarter had ended, he had made 10 of 17 shots, including 4 of 7 3s. In his seven previous games against the Pacers, he had made 28.4 percent of his shots, just 24.6 percent in his three games against them with the Rockets.

He could have been thinking off the credibility the Rockets had added to their 2014 rise to a 22-6 record, the NBA’s best since New Year’s, a season-best seven-game home winning streak or their 12-2 record since the start of February when the only losses were in the second half of back-to-backs.

Had he thought of it with the pairing of a win against Heat to go with the blowout of the Pacers, he even could have been marking their season-long dominance of the Eastern Conference in Houston, with the Rockets 14-0 against Eastern Conference teams.

In many ways, however, he might have just enjoyed the clearer-than-ever signs of how much the Rockets have progressed in the months in between.

“We’ve been playing well since the beginning of the New Year,” Harden said. “We kind of got a feel for each other now. We’ve gotten better. We’ve gotten healthy.

“When we hold the ball and let them set up defensively, then they’re great. But if we play fast like we did and make plays for each other, it’s hard to beat.”

That was the great difference between the Rockets on Friday and the team the Pacers as convincingly whipped in December. The Rockets moved the ball as they never did in the first meeting, getting assists on 10 of 12 first-quarter field goals, as many as in that entire first game against the Pacers. The Rockets began the game defending well, holding Indiana to 16 first-quarter points. When they began turning defense into offense in the third quarter, when the Pacers had reduced a 16-point first-half lead to three, they blew the game open.