James Harden is widely, and deservingly, regarded as one of the best players in the NBA today. His versatility in the ability he has to score and score efficiently, his passing skills, and his overall feel for the game are a very unique combination. There is a very good chance that this summer, he will be crowned MVP of the league for the second straight year. He just put up a season in which he scored 36 points a game.
However, his Achilles heel has always been his performances in the playoffs, or at least this is true in the minds of fans. For instance, in 2017, he averaged 29 points and 11 assists during the regular season. However, come playoff time, he wilted in a second round matchup with the Spurs- especially in a game 6 performance in which he put up 10 points and 7 rebounds on 2-11 shooting, while also fouling out and committing 6 turnovers, while the Rockets failed to win on their home court to force a Game 7.
In some fans’ minds, this has already defined his career as a player who is magnificent on the smaller stage of the regular season, but not the same in the playoffs when it counts. However, he has a huge opportunity to change that narrative in this series his Rockets are playing against the Warriors. With the series sitting at 2-1 in favor of the Dubs, with a home game still to play before heading back to Oakland, James Harden and the Rockets have a great opportunity in front of them. After having been up 3-1 in last year’s conference finals, and dropping that great opportunity, they have another great shot at dethroning the Warriors dynasty.
And, to this point in the series, the Rockets and Harden have brought it. Yes, they are down 2-1, but each game, even the ones on the Warriors’ home floor, has been competitive and James Harden has played well, especially in a 41-point Game 3 performance in which he hit multiple big shots down the stretch in a game that went to overtime. This is the first step he took towards changing the narrative on his career forever, and I personally believe that if he and the Rockets play well and are able to win this series, James Harden’s reputation for choking in the playoffs will be gone from fans’ minds- even if Houston bows out in the next round.
We won’t know how this series affects Harden’s overall legacy around the league until years from now. However, I can confidently say that I believe if the Rockets are able to conquer this Warriors group, that series win might be more important to his career referendum than any other series he’s played or will play.