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Wednesday, May 11, 2022

James Harden's Elimination Game History

Past performance does not guarantee future results, but past performance provides a good idea of what to expect. The Philadelphia 76ers face a home elimination game versus the Miami Heat tomorrow night. What should we expect to see in that game from James Harden, the player who Daryl Morey declared to be a better scorer than Michael Jordan?  

Here are James Harden's statistics from the 11 playoff games in which his team faced elimination since he fled the Oklahoma City Thunder after losing in the 2012 NBA Finals:

6/19/21 Game Seven Eastern Conference Second Round versus Milwaukee Bucks (Brooklyn Nets lost, 115-111): 22 points, 5-17 FG (.294), 4 TO, -4 plus/minus.

9/12/20 Game Five Western Conference Second Round versus L.A. Lakers (Houston Rockets lost, 119-96): 30 points, 12-20 FG (.600), 6 TO, -29 plus/minus.

9/2/20 Game Seven Western Conference First Round versus Oklahoma City Thunder (Houston Rockets won, 104-102): 17 points, 4-15 FG (.267), 4 TO, +9 plus/minus.

5/10/19 Game Six Western Conference Second Round versus Golden State Warriors (Houston Rockets lost, 118-113): 35 points, 11-25 FG (.440), 6 TO, -10 plus/minus.

5/28/18 Game Seven Western Conference Finals versus Golden State Warriors (Houston Rockets lost, 101-92): 32 points, 12-29 FG (.414), 5 TO, -13 plus/minus

5/11/17 Game Six Western Conference Second Round versus San Antonio Spurs (Houston Rockets lost, 114-75): 10 points, 2-11 FG (.182), 6 TO, -28 plus/minus.

4/27/16 Game Five Western Conference First Round versus Golden State Warriors (Houston Rockets lost, 114-81): 35 points, 12-23 FG (.522), 7 TO, -27 plus/minus.

5/27/15 Game Five Western Conference Finals versus Golden State Warriors (Houston Rockets lost, 104-90): 14 points, 2-11 FG (.182), 12 TO, -4 plus/minus.

5/17/15 Game Seven Western Conference Second Round versus L.A. Clippers (Houston Rockets won, 113-100): 31 points, 7-20 FG (.350), 7 TO, +12 plus/minus.

5/2/14 Game Six Western Conference First Round versus Portland Trail Blazers (Houston Rockets lost, 99-98): 34 points, 9-15 FG (.600), 4 TO, +7 plus/minus.

5/3/13 Game Six Western Conference First Round versus Oklahoma City Thunder (Houston Rockets lost, 103-94): 26 points, 7-22 FG (.318), 4 TO, +3 plus/minus.

Totals/Averages: 26.0 ppg, 83-208 FG (.399), 5.9 TPG, -8.5 plus/minus, 2-9 team record (average point differential for Harden's team: -11.1).

When his team faced elimination, Harden has been a high volume/low efficiency shooter who turned the ball over at an alarming rate--in fact, he set the single game playoff record for turnovers (12). Great players handle the ball a lot, so many of the highest turnover games have been logged by great players, but Harden's combination of 12 turnovers with 2-11 field goal shooting in the same game is quite special. Luka Doncic had an 11 turnover playoff game, but he shot 13-21 from the field in that game. Another way to offset a high turnover rate is to make a significant contribution defensively and/or by being a great leader but--to put it mildly--Harden is not known for doing either of those things.

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posted by David Friedman @ 8:18 PM



At Thursday, May 12, 2022 10:13:00 PM, Blogger DDC said...

I didn't see Harden the entire night tonight, but he was awful in the 1st half, apparently he didn't get much better.

I've seen some of the basketball analysts harp on his poor shooting splits and that's been poor, it's his floor game that is even worse. I don't know if I've ever seen a supposedly MVP level player turn the rock over like he does. Oh well kind of glad he lost, I don't find his play entertaining at all.

At Thursday, May 12, 2022 11:59:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Harden actually was not that bad in the first half, but he was awful in the second half. At this point, his media advocates have nothing to lean on other than claiming that he used to be great but now he is old. I cannot imagine anyone trying to assert that there is any justification or excuse for how he played in this game, particularly since he just showed that he is still quite capable of getting his shot off and even scoring more than 30 points in a game. Refusing to shoot in the second half of an elimination game that had been competitive until he refused to shoot reinforces that he is a player who melts under pressure.

The problem with the pro-Harden narrative is that he has a career-long pattern of being awful in elimination games, so this has nothing to do with his age. Another problem is that what I have been saying for years has now become painfully evident to anyone who is paying attention: if Harden is not given a bunch of undeserved free throws per game and if he is not permitted to push off and travel then he struggles to score at a high rate, let alone score "efficiently." His field goal shooting has never been great, but his supporters deemed him "efficient" because he would shoot 8-20 but still end up with 30 points because he made 14 free throws, many of which came from phantom calls. Harden also "created space" because defenders were afraid to go near him because of the deference he received from officials. Gregg Popovich instructed his players to guard Harden with their hands behind their backs to (1) not be called for fouls and (2) expose the poor officiating. Jordan and Bryant were unguardable because of their skills. Harden was unguardable (at times) during the regular season because of the officiating. When the officiating points of emphasis were finally changed, Harden became a 20-22 ppg scorer--the same player he has always been.

He is who I have always said he is, and he will laugh all the way to the bank and the Hall of Fame.


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