James Harden Can’t Flop And Fuss His Way To NBA Title

It’s time for the dog to come out in James Harden — if he has any in him.

With all of the pomp and circumstance about the unbelievable scoring that James Harden exhibited during the regular season, this current playoff semifinals matchup with Golden State is what the NBA world’s been craving.  

Harden’s playoff career has been somewhat of a flop. There have been games where he had the opportunity to step up and lock it down and he failed. This year was supposed to be different. Granted, we are only 1 game into a seven game series between two powerhouse squads, but Harden has failed to seize the moment once again.

Is this the year that The Beard shows NBA fans that he’s more than just flash, empty stats, endorsements, ugly sneakers, wild outfits and Sportscenter highlights?

Monday night’s Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals was up for grabs. Instead of being the “unstoppable force,” Harden shot 4-for-16 from three-point range, scored 35 point on 28 shots and decided to complain about the refereeing rather than handle his business on the court.  

He’s once again picked the worst time to go into a shooting slump. In the last four games Harden is shooting 32 percent from the field and 28 percent from three-point range. Sometimes you have to switch things up. Champions adjust their games to the situation for the sake of the W. LeBron James has done it several times. Steph Curry did it when Durant arrived.

If Harden’s going to keep chucking threes, flopping and getting frustrated when he doesn’t get a whistle, then the results won’t be positive.   

Golden State has him off his game and if he’s really that guy, then he will figure out how to beat their defense and match their intensity and hang a 50 spot on them to tie the series up in Game 2.

NBA champion Isiah Thomas says Harden has to keep his head in the game. 

“My job competing against you is to take your mind off the game plan,” said Zeke on ESPN. “If I can make you think about officiating. If I can make you think about the crowd. If I can make you think about Laimbeer or somebody… anything…then I got you thinking about everything except the game plan and executing the game plan.”


For the Rockets to complain about three calls in the last 1:10 of the game is sour grapes. Golden State is two-time defending champions for a reason. They are not going to give Houston anything and neither are the refs. Harden has to know by now that playoff hoops are different. The refs are going to let the defenders get more burn so the superstars have to step up and match the increased defensive intensity.   

Harden, who gets more foul calls than any other player in the NBA, is probably going to win his second straight league MVP award. The Beard was called the “best offensive player of all-time” by Rockets GM Daryl Morey during his legendary tear of 32 consecutive 30-point games this season.

Dwyane Wade said,”He’s definitely one of the most unguardable players this game has ever seen.”

After narrowly losing to the Warriors in last year’s Western Conference Finals,  Houston was a popular pick to dethrone the champs. As the season progressed, Harden was at the top of his game, CP3 was healthy and Golden State had some obvious chemistry breakdowns at times. Steve Kerr’s Dynasty looked vulnerable. 

Houston is a formidable operation, but in order to beat Golden State, Harden has to be the same player he was during the regular season. That includes hitting clutch buckets at the big moment, which is something that he just never seems to do come playoff time.


It’s the one criticism that keeps some guys from including him among the immortals of the game. It’s not like his team sucks. The Rockets are a well-balanced machine that can put up 140 point on the right night. Harden averaged 36.1 points per game this regular season.

All of this social media and sports show conversation about referee calls when Harden is underperforming makes him look like a spoiled, entitled kid that’s stirring up the pot and making excuses. In essence, cowering from the challenge. Harden’s actions breed confidence in guys like Draymond Green who smells blood in the water.

Green is the ultimate antagonist. We know that. Players like Magic and Bird and Jordan, they welcomed an opponent’s rage. Or a referee’s disrespect. It motivated them. The road to the c’hip should be physical, messy, confrontational, magnificent and miraculous. Nobody is giving Harden an inch out there.

If he’s looking for the refs to bail him out and hand him that shiny ball, then he’s not up to the challenge of lifting his team to the championship. His MVPs will look nice on the mantle, but will ring hollow due to his playoff failure.

Houston is too good to go out without making things difficult for Golden State. Luckily, there are other ballers who can get hot for Houston and CP3 is still the consummate floor general. But this series isn’t about any of them. It’s Harden’s moment of truth.

Showtime is over. It’s time for the dog to come out in James Harden — if he has any in him.

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.