James Harden finished second in MVP voting this year. He was great in the regular season for the Houston Rockets while averaging a career high in points (27.4), rebounds (5.7) and assists (7.0). He led the league in free throw attempts and he led the Rockets to the 2nd seed in the Western Conference while Dwight Howard missed a lot of games.
Last season Harden increased his scoring in the playoffs but his shooting numbers dropped across the board as the Rockets lost in six games to the Blazers in the first round. This year the Rockets were better and they easily defeated the Dallas Mavericks in the first round.
Harden was great in the first round. He controlled the game and made the right passes to set up his teammates. He took 17 shots a game, down from his 18 during the regular season. He got to the line 10 times a game just like he did in the regular season. His scoring was up slightly and his assists were up. He was being the superstar the Rockets needed.
While on the road for game three Harden dropped 42 points on the Mavericks to put Dallas in a 0-3 hole. It was the only time during the series that Harden took at least 20 shots. The Mavericks won game four but it was all over in game 5. Houston was advancing and they looked good doing it.
However during that series the Rockets stopped playing defense. In game three they gave up 128 points and then they gave up 121 points in a game four lost. It was looked over because the Rockets were winning and advancing.
With the Clippers coming into town after a hard fought seven game series against the Spurs, the Rockets had the advantage of rest and health. Chris Paul was banged up in game seven against the Spurs and missed the first two games against the Rockets.
Houston came out flat on their home court. At one point it seemed like they stopped trying. James Harden played 37 minutes but only took 13 shots. He had 12 assists so he was getting his teammates involved but there was no aggression on his part. He only got to the line six times. He finished with 20 points and nine turnovers.
Houston won game two because the Clippers were really tired. The Rockets started to double team Blake Griffin and Harden finally hit some shots in the 4th quarter. Harden got to the line 15 times as the Rockets shot 64 free throws. Harden finished with 32 points and seven turnovers. Harden only took 17 shots in the game though.
Chris Paul returned for game three and the Rockets didn’t show up in Los Angeles. They lost by 25 points as Harden took five free throws and scored 25 points. Harden only took 16 shots in 36 minutes of action. He has to be more aggressive if the Rockets want to win another game.
Game four was more of the same. The Rockets lost by 33 points. Dwight Howard was frustrated early because he picked up two fouls. Instead of playing the game and competing, the Rockets decided to foul DeAndre Jordan. Jordan took 28 free throws in the 1st half alone. He ended up taking 34 free throws for the entire game.
It was a must win game for the Rockets and their superstar, MVP candidate took 12 shots. Sure he got to the line 10 times, had eight rebounds, dished out six assists and scored 21 points but he took 12 shots. This is unacceptable for any superstar player in a must win game.
In these playoffs James Harden has only taken over 20 shots one time. That was in the game where he scored 42 points. Harden is only averaging 14 shots per game in this series against the Clippers. If they were winning games that would be fine but they are getting blown out and he’s not even trying. His defense has slipped in this series so I know he has the energy to get shots up.
Look at the Bulls-Cavaliers series, LeBron knew the Cavs need a win in game four and although it was ugly he took 30 shots. In game two he took 29 shots. He was aggressive and forcing the action. James Harden has to do that for the Rockets. His usage rate is actually lower in the playoffs.
He hasn’t had a signature MVP moment in these playoffs yet. He will need a few of them if the Rockets want to climb out of this 3-1 deficit. He has to take over 20 shots in their next game while still forcing the action to get to the free throw line. He’s had plenty of games during the regular season when he took over 20 field goals and 10 free throws.
Losing a playoff series to a team that is better than yours is not an embarrassment. However losing multiple games by 20+ points and not competing is an embarrassment. Hopefully Harden locks in and fights for his team in game five.