The Bearded Wonder Becomes the Choking Blunder in the Playoffs

What the hell is wrong with James Harden?

That’s the question of the day. So far so-called superstar Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden is averaging 22.5 points per game on a disastrous .298 field goal percentage during his team’s Western Conference first round matchup against the lower-seeded Portland Trail Blazers. This from a man who was averaging 25 points per game on .456 percent shooting during the regular season? This from a man who some have said is the best shooting guard in the NBA?  Man, please! 

The bearded wonder is looking like a choking blunder, and it’s not just these playoffs either. His post season ineptitude dates back to his time with the Oklahoma City Thunder, where he pretty much disappeared in the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat in 2012. 

Speculation in the media is frowned upon, but when you drop off the map in the manner that Harden has then you have to speculate on his clutch gene, or lack thereof.  We could say that he’s not getting the same amount of touches during these first two playoff games as C Dwight Howard is averaging 30 points and 15 rebounds, but that would be something of a misnomer.  Harden shot the ball around 16 times per game on average during the regular season. In the playoffs thus far he's chucking the rock almost 24 times per game. During the regular season he put up six three pointers per game and is still shooting at that same rate so far against the Portland Trail Blazers. Long story short, he’s actually shooting the ball more and making less. 

Could it be the Portland defense? 

The Trail Blazers have a plethora of wing defenders in Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, Dorrell Wright and, sometimes, Damon Lillard, who are long enough and fast enough to alter Harden's shot. Those fade away jumpshots and floaters in the lane that were money in the bank during the regular season are clanking off the back rim with increasing regularity. The euro-step isn't getting the same results either. Is it heart, inspired defenders or just plain old chocking? One cannot say with any certainty. However, it seems like he’s Houdini whenever the chips are down, but disappearing acts won’t get any applauds from the fickle Houston fan base. 

Harden tallied five points in Game 1 of the Finals versus the Miami Heat, 21 points in Game 2, nine points in Game 3, eight points in Game 4, and 19 points in the series deciding game. All of this on 37 percent shooting from the field. Yuck! Okay, let’s say that he simply wasn’t getting the ball in that series. He excels with the ball in his hand and was playing alongside two scorers in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. During the Houston Rockets’ 2013 first round loss versus his former team, Harden average 26 points per game on 37 percent shooting from the field. The stats were better but nobody expected the 8th seed Houston Rockets to defeat the No. 1 seed Thunder, even without Russell Westbrook. 

Now the Rockets are exponentially better with Dwight Howard in the post, a steadily improving Terrence Jones at power forward, an emerging star in Chandler Parsons and a backcourt duo of Patrick Beverly and Jeremy Lin swapping time at the point guard spot, yet Harden’s 4th-seeded team is struggling with the 5th seed, down 2-0. Yes, LaMarcus Aldridge is scoring at a 40-plus clip but Harden Houdini’s disappearing acts aren’t helping the situation at all. It’s time for him to step it up tonight or else the stench of underachieving that is hanging over the man who some call the best at his position, will become a permanent stain until further notice.

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