As fans, we can analyze NBA playoff series all we want, but most of the time, it comes down to what our favorite stars can do in crunch time. Some guys just have the uncanny ability to will their team to victory, and as a Houston Rockets fan, I’ve seen James Harden do just that so many times this year.
The Beard single-handedly won two games against the Washington Wizards this season, taking over down the stretch with apparent ease both times. In both of those contests, I remember having this euphoric feeling as I thought about what James Wesley Harden (that’s a nickname based off of the famous gunslinger John Wesley Hardin) would do to opponents late in playoff games.
So far this April, that euphoric feeling has been replaced by nausea (and a deep hatred for LaMarcus Aldridge‘s release point on his jump shot).
Honestly, once the calendar year began and Harden flipped the switch (and started making threes), I felt like he could lead the boys in red to a title. I felt like the team had the talent, toughness, winning mentality and most importantly, the closer, to beat anyone in the Western Conference.
As we all know, things aren’t going as planned for the Rockets, particularly for Harden. The Beard has averaged 27.5 points per game so far against the Portland Trail Blazers, but he’s shooting just 35 percent from the field and 27 percent from three-point land. In the last two games of the series Harden has improved, averaging 32.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6 assists, but his 3-point shot still isn’t there (just 6-22 for 27 percent).
I’ve watched every single game Harden has played for Houston the last two years and I have faith that he can lead the Rockets back in the series. To me, Harden’s the ultimate gunslinger, and although that works against him at times (mainly when his shot isn’t falling), he always gives Houston a shooter’s chance to come out on top. I expect Harden to find his long-range shot in Game 5, which will help him get the team moving in the right direction.
Harden has been scrutinized all season long for his defense, but so far in the series, that hasn’t been a problem. Wesley Matthews has averaged just 13.3 points per game in the first four games, including a pair of games where he failed to reach double digits in scoring, something he did only 13 times in 82 games during the regular season.
If Houston is going to make this comeback, it’ll need Harden to take over late in games. So far, The Beard has been underwhelming in the clutch, looking indecisive in most cases, jumping from side to side on high pick and rolls, looking for a driving lane instead of creating one with a dribble move. For some mysterious reason, the Rockets haven’t gone back to the elbow pick and rolls that they used so effectively in Game 2, so that’s definitely something to watch for going into Game 5.
So far, this has been an unbelievably tough series for Rockets fans. My only advice to those of you who bleed red is this: Don’t lose faith in Houston’s roster, especially Harden. He’s been a workhorse all year long and he’s proven himself as the best shooting guard in the league (anyone who tells you differently is stuck in the past). By the end of the series, Fear the Beard will have taken on a new meaning; I guarantee it.
All the Rockets need are three wins in a row. James Wesley Harden is going to be the guy who makes it happen.