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James Harden incident led to Kevin McHale’s firing, claims Josh Smith

james harden, kevin mchale, josh smith, rockets

Ex-Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale’s decision to keep James Harden on the bench during Houston’s improbable comeback versus the L.A. Clippers in Game 6 of the 2016 Western Conference Semifinals helped deliver a key playoff victory—but it may have eventually cost McHale his job.

Former Rockets forward Josh Smith—who sparked Houston’s memorable comeback with 14 fourth-quarter points (including 3-of-4 from downtown)—believes that leaving on Harden on the bench while Smith and others outscored Chris Paul and the Clippers 40-15 in the final frame is what led to his ousting.

Speaking to Uninterrupted, Smith recalled that memorable Game 6, in which Houston trailed by as many as 19 points in the second half facing a 3-2 series deficit.

“James really not playing the best like we know he can, but it’s up to us to help him…So [McHale] made the sub. It was like me, Brewer, Trevor Ariza, Jason Terry, and Dwight…They benched James—that’s why he probably got fired. I honestly believe that.”

Houston fired McHale after a 4-7 start to the 2016-17 season, six months after he led the Rockets to its first Western Conference Finals appearance in 18 seasons. At the time, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey explained the move, saying:

“Our team was reeling at the time of the change…I believed that if we waited until what would be considered a normal timetable to make a change that it would likely be too late. Our only focus is on winning and I felt a material change was necessary.”

McHale has not coached an NBA team since his departure from Houston.