As was hilariously mentioned during the ESPN pregame show by commentator and former player Jalen Rose, James Harden was in the sunken place last night as the Houston Rockets were trounced by the San Antonio Spurs 114-75. It was the lowest offensive output for the Houston Rockets during this entire season.
This postseason was supposed to be different for Harden, one worthy of the season-long talk of him deserving league MVP consideration. He posted career highs in every offensive category in a thrilling two-man MVP race slongside his former teammate Russell Westbrook of Oklahoma City.
Fans will recall the manner in which Harden was a no-show off the bench for the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals versus the Miami Heat during the 2012 NBA Finals. But his abilities were such that we all believed it was an aberration.
And the Houston Rockets brain trust thought so too, bringing him over in 2013 to become “The Man”. And the man he has been, averaging 29 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds per game. But he has become the epitome of a regular season assassin throughout his tenure.
Now you see him, as in the regular season where he was second in scoring and led the league in assists. Now you don’t, as in the curious case of his playoff disappearances, as was the case in 2014 when he came up short against LaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trail Blazers in the First Round.
That year, I wrote an article titled “The Bearded Wonder Becomes the Choking Blunder in the Playoffs” due to that epic let down. From that moment forward, I had been highly critical of Harden, writing several incendiary articles excoriating him for his shortcomings on the basketball court and in critical moments.
But this season I was amazed, amused and enthralled by his stats that I too became caught up in the hype, even postulating “Is James Harden The NBA’s Best Point Guard” in January. But things always go back to what they are, and Harden has proven beyond the shadow of any additional doubt that he just might be one of the greatest, most talented chokers in the history of professional sports. Incredible.
He didn’t just shoot poorly, he didn’t even shoot at all. He had turnovers to phantom players, he threw the ball away with jump passes and his eyes were wide as saucers. Beyond any conspiracy theories and personal slights, it gives me no great joy to call the brother a choker, but he is. And that might go double for Mike D’Antoni.