Much Ado About Harden
With the Houston Rockets trailing the Los Angeles Lakers 2-1 in the Western Conference semifinals, Thursday's Game 4 represented an opportunity for Houston to catapult itself back into the series or dive into a 3-1 hole.
And in another big game, Rockets superstar James Harden had another not-so-big performance.
The Lakers defeated Houston 110-100 on Thursday night, and Harden's stat-line was as peculiar as superstar stat-lines come.
He shot 2-for-11 from the field and 1-for-6 from three, but finished the game with 21 points behind 16 made three throws.
Harden added in 10 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals and 5 turnovers, in what resulted in a third straight loss to the Lakers.
The Beard has had huge playoff performances in his career, dating back to his time as sixth man with Oklahoma City.
He scored 29 points off the bench in Game 4 of OKC's first round sweep of Dallas back in 2012.
With Houston trailing the Los Angeles Clippers 3-1 in the Western Conference semifinals back in 2015, Harden put up 31 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds in Game 7 to help the Rockets complete their comeback.
And during Golden State's five-year run to the NBA Finals, Harden's Rockets served as the Warriors' stiffest competion out West, and the Beard averaged 29.8 points in four series against Golden State between 2015 and 2019.
However, Harden has had his playoff lows as well – more than a few of them.
And most recently, in Game 7 of Houston's first round series against OKC less than two weeks ago, Harden shot 4-for-15 from the field, including 1-for-9 from three, finishing with just 17 points.
Harden has played in four Game 7s in his career and in those games, he is averaging 24.3 points on 40.8% shooting. He's played in 19 elimination games in his playoff career, and in those games, he's averaging 23.8 points on 41.5% shooting.
After Harden's lackluster shooting night on Thursday, Nick Wright felt he had no choice but to question The Beard's big-game mettle.
"This is becoming a pretty thick dossier of some James Harden, really tough, high-leverage playoff moments."
After the game, Harden was asked why he and his team looked so flat in such a critical game, and the analysis was quick from the 3-time NBA scoring champion:
But for Wright – a self-proclaimed Harden defender – coming up short in Game 4 was inexcusable for a player of Harden's stature.
"I love Harden, and I've been one of his most vocal defenders ... Harden's an MVP. Harden's [finished] top two in [MVP voting] four times ... [but] in the biggest game of the year, to go 2-for-11 again ... This is the third 2-for-11 essential elimination game he's had. It's a big deal."
Harden will take the floor for the 20th elimination game of his career on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET.
We'll see then what the next section on Harden's playoff resume will read.