The Houston Rockets missed out on a golden opportunity to take control of the de facto NBA Finals. They’d just erased a 20-point lead. Kevin Durant was in the locker room with a potentially serious lower-leg injury which rendered him helpless and the home fans distressed. And just like last year, when Houston launched 27 consecutive bricks from downtown, they failed to capitalize.
The Warriors beat the Rockets. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala made big plays down the stretch. But the Rockets also beat the Rockets. With Durant absent James Harden was the best player on the court. The unstoppable lefty was hot through three quarters with 28 points on 9-for-15 shooting. Then he allowed himself to be stopped.
Harden, who is perhaps more skilled than anyone in the world at creating his own shot, had but a single attempt in the final 8:58 — a layup with 18.6 seconds remaining. Too little, too late.
This is a shocking, telling stat. Immediately after the game, the guard didn’t have any answers. He was as unsure of how the hell something like that could happen as the rest of us.
Harden played selflessly and within the confines of the offense. Golden State really keyed in on him and he attempted to work for the best shot, even if it wasn’t his shot. NBA stars are in a tough spot. When they do get shot happy, we accuse them of playing hero ball. When they defer too much, as Harden did, we accused them of shrinking in the big moment.
We can save the hottest takes to others, but it’s still objectively stunning that Harden barely shot down the stretch in the biggest game of the season. Even more so when one considers his penchant for getting to the free-throw line and the foul trouble the Warriors stars’ were in.
Amateur doctors are hard at work diagnosing Durant from afar. The general consensus is that a non-contact injury like that has a pretty bleak immediate future. The Warriors need him at 100 percent and soon.
If that’s not possible, Houston will have two more golden opportunities, entering both games as the better team. Odds are we won’t see the amazing disappearing Harden again.