James Harden, through the first four games of the Los Angeles Clippers' first-round matchup against the Dallas Mavericks, was his team's best and most consistent player — a stabilizing force for a team that is weathering Kawhi Leonard's injury and the eye-popping variance in Paul George's performances. Game 5, however, was a different yet familiar story for Harden.

Harden scored just seven points on 2-12 shooting from the field as the Clippers suffered a 123-93 defeat against the Mavericks — the largest in their 25 year stay in Crypto.com Arena (previously Staples Center). As a result, Harden made some unfortunate playoff history. According to Ben Golliver of the Washington Post, Harden now has 13 playoff games of 20 percent of worse shooting on 10 or more shot attempts — the most in NBA history since the 1979-80 season.

Adding to this unfortunate record is the fact that James Harden now has 10 playoff games with two or fewer made baskets on 10 or more field-goal attempts (per Nick Wright of FOX Sports). This is such a crushing blow to the Clippers star, especially when it seemed as if he was turning around the narrative of his much-criticized playoff career.

Harden has gone 3-10 in playoff games where he has made two or fewer baskets on 10+ shot attempts, winning one game when he was with the Brooklyn Nets (thanks to Kevin Durant's herculean performance), Houston Rockets (they faced the eight-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves), and the Oklahoma City Thunder (he was the third banana).

In games of 20 percent or worse shooting in the playoffs on 10+ attempts, Harden's record is 4-9, with the additional win to the victories mentioned above coming against the Utah Jazz in 2020 (he shot 14-16 from the foul line and he finished with 22 points still).

In the past, James Harden has tended to make up for his putrid shooting nights with his elite ability to get to the foul line. But as he has aged, this foul-baiting skill of his has also declined. This has now led to plenty of variance for Harden in playoff games, and in Game 5 against the Mavericks, it just so happened that a poor night plagued The Beard in an untimely manner.

James Harden's legacy on the line?

Father Time comes for everyone not named LeBron James. James Harden is already 34 years old, and he plays more deliberate than ever. He does not have the quick first step he had during his prime, and his burst when pulling off dribble moves has been noticeably worse than ever.

Due to to the jump-shooting nature of Harden's game, he is subject to plenty of variance. This has been the case throughout his career. It doesn't look like a matter of shrinking in the moment, as Harden truly does look like he's trying his best whenever he's on the court. But his track record in closeout/elimination games isn't exactly ideal for the Clippers as they try to send the series back to Crypto.com Arena.

Game 5 of the 2015 Western Conference Finals and Game 6 of the second-round in 2017 are black eyes in James Harden's playoff career. During the fateful 2015 game, he shot 2-11 and turned the ball over 12 times. And then in 2017, Harden's Rockets were demolished by the San Antonio Spurs at home (they lost by 39, 114-75) even though Kawhi Leonard was out due to injury.

Most recently, Harden struggled in Games 6 and 7 of the second round against the Boston Celtics in 2023. He shot a combined 7-27 as he and Joel Embiid played together for the final time.

Still, the Clippers have no choice but to put their faith in James Harden, as their season depends on it especially due to the uncertainty of Kawhi Leonard's knee injury.

Paul George and the Clippers believe in the Beard

James Harden is as battle-tested as it gets, and the Clippers will need him to dig deep to extend their season and give them a shot at buying Kawhi Leonard more time in hopes of a return down the line. For Paul George, he still has utmost belief that Harden can figure it out, even if his Game 5 performance doesn't exactly lend much confidence.

“It's just one of those nights, some nights are tough. But he’ll be better. He's got every tool in his tool set to get shots and create and score the ball,” George said in his postgame presser, per Tomer Azarly, Clippers beat reporter for ClutchPoints.

“He's one of the elite scorers. It's not much that needs to be said. He's one of the best at putting the ball in the basket.”

The Clippers cannot lose their cool now; with their backs against the wall, Paul George knows that rallying together is the only way they can turn things around against a Mavericks team that seems to be finding its groove.

“We all in this together. We’ll climb ourselves out of this hole. But again, it just starts with getting this next win,” George added.