Because by the looks of it, it appears that James Harden, one of the favorites to win the MVP award this year, followed up his terrible clutch performance in Game 5 with an even worse Game 6.
An all-time bad Game 6.
A performance so woeful, so puzzling, that it has to go down as the defining moment of Harden’s season.
A performance so listless, it has to go down as the defining moment of Harden’s career.
Harden’s performance in the Rockets' 114-75 loss Thursday was an all-time great choke job — not just because he, a player who had one of the best offensive seasons in NBA history, scored 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting with six turnovers and six fouls, but also because of the circumstances of it:
The Spurs were without their best player — one of the best players in the NBA — Kawhi Leonard. The Rockets were at home in an elimination game. Harden had something to prove after his poor close-out to Game 5.
And then… that.
And because of that, the Rockets' season is over.
After Harden’s Game 5, I wrote that his performance “had the kind of stink that lingers.”
His Game 6 stink is going to linger all summer and perhaps into next postseason.
This kind of stink could last a career.
I have no allegiance, no rooting interest, but Harden’s Game 6 dud was an unacceptable performance for an MVP candidate. Not only did Harden play exceptionally poorly, his body language from the opening tip projected failure. He was aloof, disinterested, disengaged, defeated. What kind of a team leader — a most valuable player, if you will — is that?
We can only judge Harden on his performance. People will claim he was injured (a la Stephen Curry in last year’s postseason), and others will point to the Spurs’ defensive tactics or Harden’s seven assists (he wasn’t as bad as everyone made him out to be!) — those are empty excuses.
Leonard wanted to play — Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had to bench him because of an ankle injury sustained in Game 5.
Did Harden want to play?
It's hard to make the case that he did: Harden had as many shots as Kawhi Leonard in the first quarter of an elimination game. Leonard, again, didn’t play (I know this is redundant, but this cannot be emphasized enough).
Harden wasn’t trying out some pass-first mentality to help the Rockets’ offense early in the contest, either — it just looked as if he couldn’t be bothered to engage.
And when the Rockets fell down 20 points early, Harden called it a day.
There’s no excuse for his lack of effort. If you’re on the court, you have to try in a game like Thursday’s, and no one can claim Harden gave even half of his all in Game 6.
The MVP is a regular season award — there was nothing that Harden could have done Thursday to disqualify himself from winning that award after the season ends— but it’s going to be nearly impossible to reconcile Harden holding that award, should he win (Westbrook is expected to claim it), with his performance in Game 6, his final game of the year.
At least Russell Westbrook went down swinging. Harden couldn’t even be bothered to do that.