As the Oklahoma City Thunder mounted a late-game assault in the fourth quarter of Game 6 against the Houston Rockets, it didn't take long for James Harden to surface (or un-surface?) as one of the main omissions from clutch moments in the game.
Dime maestro Chris Paul tortured the Rockets' defense with some late-game buckets while Mike D'Antoni's best player was nowhere to be found during crunch time. It wasn't pretty:
Watch this and tell me Harden wanted the ball to decide the game. You cannot give less effort to get the ball. 3 clips. (One is just front row seat to schroeder drive). Its Game 6 of a playoff game! pic.twitter.com/ELbNwcAFIZ
— Chris Vernon (@ChrisVernonShow) September 1, 2020
As evidenced by this video, Harden couldn't try any less hard to get control of the ball — a criticism that pans solid with the myriad defeats in the postseason.
ESPN's Tim MacMahon noted the Rockets coach's response to Harden's lack of offensive involvement late in the game:
“Obviously, we have got to try to get him involved if we have to,” said D'Antoni on Tuesday with Game 7 on his sights. “We just kept turning it over before he even had a chance to get him involved. There were turnovers that probably shouldn't happen, so we'll talk about it.
“I've talked to him, and he knows. He'll be ready to go tomorrow. But it is definitely something that we want to get it to happen, without a doubt.”
A quick look at his stat line (32 points, eight rebounds, seven assists) shows that Harden didn't do poorly in the game, but his lack of engagement late in the tilt likely cost his team a series-clinching win. Russell Westbrook had the ball in his hands a lot at the end of the game, with disastrous results for Houston.
So, instead of the Rockets advancing to face the Los Angeles Lakers, it's Paul getting lauded for gutting out yet another clutch performance to keep his team's playoff hopes alive, forcing a Game 7 that could very well determine D'Antoni's fate this offseason. Houston's two stars will need to be much better.