R.I.P James Harden 2016–2017
Today, I decided to willingly torture myself and watch the highlights of Game 6 of the Rockets-Spurs series. Watching it a second time was equally as painful. I got angry every time we decided not to play defense and how lazy we looked on the boards. The Rockets and James Harden did not show up on may 11th, plain and simple. After we tied the game at 14, we saw them go on an incredible run that we were never able to stop. It was complete quick sand. The Rockets were not built on defense and were also built very strategically like most DAntoni teams. The negative part of Mike’s system is that he goes with a very limited rotation and Houston only housed two real bigs for their system, Nene and Capela. Now, I am not going to sit here and act like the impact of Nene can match the impact of No Kawhi. But, Popovich has mastered the art of plugging in players. He builds his team so that any of his 12 players can step in and make an impact. It was evident in this series. Guys like Jonathan Simmons who was absolutely incredible in this series. His athleticism, his defense, and his 3-point shooting (he shot 29% in the regular season, attempting 1.2 per game). He played completely over his normal production and rewarded Pop for giving him a chance. Kyle Anderson (major shout out to a hometown hero, he’s from the Hudson County area, same as myself) showed off his wide range of skills. He was rebounding, passing, and playing great defense. Kawhi missed the layup on arguably the greatest pass of his young career. I’m sure he’ll forgive him. Lastly, Dejonte Murray who started games 2 and 3. He made a major impact by staying in his lane and playing to his skill set. That’s impressive to see in a young player. The Spurs have seen David Robinson and Tim Duncan retire. While players like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili seemed destined for the same ending. Props to Manu though for having a throwback in Game 5. The point is that they are a well oiled machine that does not break down, not even for a season.
Now Let’s talk about the man, the myth, the legend. James Harden. What an awful way to go out for Harden. The Rockets had such an incredible season. They took the Spurs to game 6 and had game 5 in the bag. Something happened to them right after that. They look rattled in the last 2 minutes of the 4th quarter and in most of overtime. The Rockets gave the ball to James Harden and stared at him. They expected him to go one on one, the offensive movement was gone and they looked helpless. It’s almost like Leonard getting hurt confused the Rockets and they never figured out how to capitalize. Instead of being motivated by the loss of one of the top 5 players in the league, they looked broken. Watching the highlights of game 6 over you can see Harden just completely exhausted. It’s the sixth straight game he has to guard either Pau, Lamarcus, or Lee in the post. James Harden is a “point guard” this is not what he signed up for. I am not arguing that Harden’s play and effort was embarrassing but, maybe the wear and tear of playing 6 consecutive games guarding bigs got to him. One of those games he played 43 minutes and that was in game 5. Harden is not bionic like Lebron or Westbrook. (Quick Tangent: That is something we do not appreciate nearly enough about certain players. I have these discussions with my friends constantly. If you can’t depend on your player to play 75+ games and be healthy for the playoffs, that takes away a ton of value. (My argument against Joel Embiid) The fact that minus one knee injury for Westbrook he is playing every single night at 110 mph and never misses a game, that is incredible. Lebron is completely super human and is somehow looking close to his best in his 14th season. Let’s take a second and acknowledge one of the greatest players of all time)
Harden broke down and these last 53 minutes and that is unacceptable from an MVP. He has to show more during game 6 of the conference semifinals. Maybe deep down he knew there was no shot anybody beats the Warriors? I hope that’s not the reason. The biggest reason this is alarming to Rockets fans is because we remember the 2014 West Conference semis where it looked like Harden gave up. But, here came the wonderful duo of Josh Smith and Corey “Greyhound” Brewer. Wait, what? That’s right Josh Smith channels his inner Steph Curry and goes off from 3 while Brewer does things only thing he could do (You know what I mean if you’ve ever watched him play) I am a biased Rockets fan so I will give Harden the benefit of the doubt and he was double teamed most of that game so he passed to a ton of open shooters. But, I do believe he was exhausted and he gave up with about 2 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. That is something I am hoping he learns from but, we can’t leave the rest of the Rockets off the hook minus Trevor Ariza (being a 12-year timeless wonder of consistency) The team from Houston shot 28.6% from the field. I’ll say it again they broke Houston and James Harden needs to really learn from this. The last people who need to learn from this are Morey and DAntoni.
The Rockets need another big they can trust, preferably someone who can stretch the floor but, also fill in at the 5 and guard the post. I said this is in my previous article, James Harden cannot be guarding the post for 20 minutes a night. That will kill his legs and kill his step. He can’t guard Lamarcus at all so they are not getting stops and also draining their best player. The Rockets platooned Nene, Capela, and Anderson. When Nene went down, the Rockets gave up on Harrell and sparingly played Decker (zero minutes in game 5, yea the OT game where 4 guys played 40+). The Rockets need to address that this offseason because that played a major role in them losing this series. DAntoni did not adjust. Message for next year: Harden cannot guard bigs for extended minutes, he’s a 6’5 guard. He could do it in spurts but, we saw the long term effects. I would love someone like Serge to come to Houston but, I do not believe we have the money.
One last time, Harden does not get a free pass for last night. Watching John Wall do what Harden should have done last night was very disappointing. Wall shot his way back in that game and continued to play relentlessly. Also, an impressive game winner. Major props to Bradley Beal for bouncing back from earlier in the series where at times he has looked like a lost puppy. He hit a big 3 and banked a 2 in back to back possessions. It is discouraging to see a rout like they one we saw 2 nights ago. But, the Rockets weren’t getting past the Warriors. Maybe that’s why I am not completely devastated.
I’ll finish with a shout out to Lamarcus Aldridge. He did it to Houston again. 2013 wasn’t enough huh big fella. He found the juice against Houston and the only way the Spurs have any chance of beating the Monstars is by Aldridge averaging 25+ ppg and 10+ rpg. They need him to be one of the 5 best players on the court. I do hope Leonard gets back to 100% just to see if the Warriors can be tested. Regardless I’m going with Durant and co. in 5 (Is that a shot at Steph?) It’s not. Chef Curry is one of the greatest 5 players in the league, Durant is no. 2 though (when healthy**).
R.I.P Houston Rockets 2016–2017
R.I.P James Harden guarding big men for 20+ minutes (man I hope so)
R.I.P Rockets playing defense