76-man loss to Heat adds to James Harden’s checkered playoff history with Rockets, Nets

Last season, CJ McCollum said it about James Harden.

James Harden is a really good guy. McCollum said. “No matter what he does in his spare time, he’s really good at basketball.”

McCollum said those words after Harden lost 44 points and 17 assists while clearly unhappy with his situation in Houston.

It was the perfect encapsulation of Harden’s experience. He can dominate when he is out of shape and not mentally locked in. And he can do it because McCollum is 100% right – Harden is really good at basketball.

He is one of the best players ever. The 75 Greatest Players in the NBA. First Ballot Hall of Famer. But when it comes to Harden’s greatness, you can’t ignore his shortcomings in the NBA playoffs.

His poor post-season performance is a legitimate knock against him. These questions surrounding his abilities in the big game will grow even louder given his lackluster display in the 76ers’ Game 6 loss to the Heat.

Harden finished with 11 points while earning only 2! Shots in the second half to go along with four turnovers. He finished the game with -16 on the score sheet, and for the first time in his career he played over 40 minutes and did not attempt a free throw.

Worst of all, Harden seemed disinterested, which will surely give the 76ers pause before a big season. Harden is eligible to earn up to $275 million over the next five years if he re-signs with the Sixers, and has a player option for the $47.4 million he must collect before July 1. If he didn’t, he would become an unrestricted free agent and could sign with any team.

MORE: What the 76ers have to do with James hardened?

Have we already seen the best of James Harden in the playoffs?

In his short time in Philly, Harden was more of a playmaker than scorer. He averaged 10.5 assists in 21 regular season games with 76 and 10.3 assists per game overall, finishing second in the league in that category behind only Chris Paul (10.8). However, Harden’s scoring fell to 21.0 points per game in Philadelphia, its lowest since the 2011-12 season.

And while that’s certainly not great, the Sixers didn’t necessarily need Harden to be a great scorer. With scoring champions Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and Therese Maxey in the starting unit, the Sixers have guys who can get buckets. Plus, the Embiid is the focal point of Philly’s offense — and rightfully so.

However, the Sixers traded for Harden as their second choice. This meant that Harden had to somehow rediscover his scoring touch. Unfortunately for the Sixers, Harden appears to be past the peak of his offense.

Throughout the season, Harden displayed a lack of offensive explosiveness and ability to knock past defenders with his speed and charming catch. Instead, Harden relied on bombing away from long runs, which hasn’t been a successful strategy (a career-low 33.0 percent on three-pointers in 2021-22).

Aside from the stale performance in Game 4 of the second round series against Miami (31 points, nine assists, seven rebounds), Harden was a non-factor. He disappeared in the last two games of the series as the 76ers came out loud.

James Harden struggles in the NBA elimination matches

In February, ESPN’s Zach Lowe made deep dives on all of Harden’s possessions in the fourth quarter in every one of the All-Star guard’s postseason appearances. The results supported the narrative that Harden did not play at his usual elite level in key moments.

“Harden’s numbers in the fourth quarter, in big games, in playoff games, in series games are 2-2, bad,” Lowe said on his podcast. His tough time numbers are bad. Most of his best playoff games are when his team is ahead 3-0, 3-0, 3-0, 3-1, 3-1.

“I watched all of his field goal attempts in the fourth quarters of his postseason career, so many of his tough time baskets are like, ‘Oh, Golden State is up eight. We’ll concede a corner kick so you don’t get three.” And Harden inflates his goal ratio in a time of trouble from zero to something better than zero as he throws the ball into the opponent’s goal.”

Here’s a breakdown of Harden’s stats in elimination games:

  • 2022 Heat 4-9 (0-2 3 points), 4 swings. -16
  • 2021 Bucks 5-17 (2-12 3 pts), 4 turnovers. -2
  • 2020 Lakers 12-20 (2-8 3 points), 6 turnovers. -29
  • 2020 Thunder 4-15 (1-9 3 points), 4 swings. +9
  • 2019 Warriors 11-25 (6-15 3 points), 6 turnovers. -10
  • 2018 Warriors 12-29 (2-13 3 points), 5 turnovers. -13
  • 2017 Spurs 2-11 (2-9 3 points), 6 turnovers. -28
  • 2016 Warriors 12-23 (3-7 3 points), 7 turnovers. -27
  • 2015 Warriors 2-11 (0-3 3 points), 12 turnovers. -4
  • 2015 Clippers 7-20 (2-7 3 points), 7 turnovers. +12
  • 2015 Clippers 5-20 (2-6 3 points), 1 turnover. -21
  • 2015 Clippers 9-20 (1-8 3 points), 5 turnovers. +23
  • 2014 Blazers 9-15 (4-6 3 points), 4 turnover. +7
  • 2013 Thunder 7-22 (4-10 3 points), 4 turnovers. +3
  • 2012 Heat 5-11 (3-8 3pt), 3 swings. -17
  • 2011 Mavs 7-11 (1-5 3pt), 2 turnover. +3
  • 2011 Grizzlies 6-10 (4-8 3pt), 1 turnover. +24
  • 2010 Lakers 1-3 (0-1 3 points), 0 turnovers. -1

Statistics for James Harden’s career in the NBA Playoffs

(current through the 2021 NBA Playoffs)

  • 23.3 points per game
  • 5.5 rebounds per game
  • 6.0 assists per game
  • 1.7 steals per game
  • 0.5 pcs per game
  • 3.4 turnover per game
  • 35.4 minutes per game
  • 42.8 percent shoot
  • 33.2 percent 3-point shots
  • 86.8 percent from free throws

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