Maybe the league’s best defensive team is just an especially good matchup for James Harden.
The bearded superstar has sliced and diced the Golden State Warriors for 76 points and 18 assists on 58.5 percent shooting through the first two games of the Western Conference Finals, nearly leading his Houston Rockets to a pair of comeback victories at the hallowed grounds of Oracle Arena.
But he couldn’t quite pull it off earlier this week, and came even closer to doing so Thursday before falling just short in a nail-biting 99-98 defeat. Harden and the Rockets leave the Bay Area down 0-2, forced to try and become just the fifth team in league history to win a conference crown after losing the first two contests of the deciding series.
Regardless of the Conference Finals’ ultimate outcome, Harden’s Game 2 will eventually be forgotten — it will be just a tidy footnote should the Warriors advance with relative ease, or even less if Houston defies the odds again to take the West. History doesn’t remember all but the truly greatest losing efforts, and his lacks the immediate singularity to earn that distinction – the nearly-as-brilliant performance of Steph Curry made sure of that.
But Harden’s incredible play in Game 2 belongs in the pantheon of all-time playoff performances nonetheless. The numbers certainly warrant that distinction; Harden joined Michael Jordan as the only player since 1985 to score 38 points, grab 10 rebounds, dish nine assists, and swipe three steals while shooting 60 percent from the floor in a postseason contest. Precedent, though, still doesn’t quite do Harden’s night justice.