Mears: The Rockets Need an All-Time Performance From James Harden

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Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: James Harden

Perhaps the most underrated skill in the NBA landscape right now is the ability for a player to get his own shot. That’s why James Harden is going to win the MVP this season: He had 199 more isolation possessions than any other player, and he led all qualified players with a ridiculous 122.0 Offensive Rating on those. He is good enough to beat the Warriors … if he didn’t have to do it for 48 minutes by himself.

In this landscape, you want as many shot creators as possible, which is why losing Chris Paul to a hamstring injury was so debilitating. CP3 maybe wasn’t the best player in the series — although, maybe he had played like it before he got injured — but he was arguably the most valuable. The one guy his team couldn’t lose, because the count of shot creators — which was 2-2 with Harden, CP3, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant — shifted to 2-1 in favor of the Warriors. That’s massive.


MORE WARRIORS-ROCKETS GAME 7 COVERAGE


And you can tell it in Harden’s quarter splits this series …

  • First quarter: 33.6% usage, 61.5% true shooting
  • Second quarter: 40.2% usage, 54.8% true shooting
  • Third quarter: 33.5% usage, 57.9% true shooting
  • Fourth quarter: 39.8% usage, 43.1% true shooting

Let me make this clear: These splits are NOT because Harden isn’t clutch or because he’s woefully out of shape. During the regular season, in clutch situations — ahead or behind by five points in the final five minutes of a game — Harden used a stupid 46.2% of the Rockets’ possessions and generated a solid 55.2% true shooting mark on those. The difference is that this is the third round of the playoffs, and the Warriors are a great defensive team that can load up on him. This series has been the epitome of switching defenses and ISO basketball, which means Harden’s burden is as great in this Game 7 as almost anything we’ve ever seen before. He’s Atlas, and the basketball gods are Zeus condemning him to his task.

Crazy things can happen, and it’s possible Harden could go off for 50. We’ve seen it before. Or maybe the Rockets make everything, and Eric Gordon has the game of his life. There are avenues for a victory here, but the room for error is razor-thin. The smart play is to lay the points with the Warriors, as having two shot creators in the fourth quarter of this brutal series should be what tips the scales toward the defending champs.

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