James Harden’s MVP-caliber season came to a screeching halt with a no-show performance in an elimination loss to the Spurs on Thursday night.
Houston’s All-Star guard managed just 10 points (on 2-11 shooting) and 7 assists in a 114-75 home loss in Game 6. The Spurs, who were without all-Star forward Kawhi Leonard due to an ankle injury, will advance to face the Warriors in the Western Conference finals, which begin on Sunday.
Although Harden has been dogged by criticism of his postseason shortcomings dating back to his shaky showing in the 2012 Finals for Oklahoma City, he’s never suffered such a shocking and high-profile defeat.
Harden tied his season-low with 10 points, he set a new season-low with 17 combined points and assists, and he set a new season-low by posting a -28 in 37 minutes. His 10 points represented the fewest he’s scoring in a playoff game since becoming Houston’s franchise player in 2012. One of the league’s premier threats going to the hoop didn’t hit a single shot inside the three-point arc and he earned just six trips to the free throw line.
The Rockets’ early deficit and overall lack of energy were baffling. Harden was a major contributing factor on both counts. He didn’t take a shot and committed three turnovers in the first quarter, and he had just five points by halftime when San Antonio had already built a 19-point lead. The home crowd at the Toyota Center booed the Rockets off the court.
There would be no dramatic comeback. The Spurs pushed their lead out to 42 points in the second half, with many Rockets fans heading to the exits early. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni waved the white flag with 3:15 remaining in the fourth quarter, pulling Harden from the game with San Antonio leading by 37 points.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich improved to 20-6 in the playoffs against D’Antoni, remaining a perfect 5-0 in head-to-head series between the coaches. Popovich’s Spurs have never needed a Game 7 to eliminate D’Antoni’s Suns, Lakers and now Rockets.