Being an exceptionally great player is one thing. It’s something else to channel and tap into that greatness in the exceptionally important and pressure-filled moments of NBA playoffs.
That reality – and the complete instability between the greatness of the moment and the greatness that pervades it – was on vivid display on Thursday night Lakers‘ 110-100 wins Above Houston Rockets Leading them 3-1 in the second round playoff series.
At one end of this equation, see LeBron James: He was also a cone winner with a lighter 16 points, 15 bounces and nine assists, and his team followed suit.
On the other hand, see James Harden2 of 11, deceptive 21 points at night, mostly coming on the free-throw line, as Dardi was literally nothing brave in the fourth quarter in which he didn’t take a single shot.
Not one. Not a field-goal effort.
On the one hand, quiet excellence. Quiet abandonment, on the other hand.
So we know this now: Harden is not a playoff hero and he is never likely to be. Those basketball moments have simply failed to turn these biggest moments into anything other than despair. The Rockets also did best before Kevin O’Connor pointed out on The Ringer Thunder In the first round, over the past five years, Hard has shot less than 25 percent from the 3-point line in the playoff fourth quarter and overtime.
What Hard did on Thursday night was even more problematic: he admitted what many of us already know. That he cannot do it. That he will not do it. That he didn’t, and as a result the Rockets team won Game 1 of the series, entering the 2nd quarter of Game 2, entering the 4th quarter of Game 3 – a capable MVP in the Rocket team away from a real chance – will soon be eliminated. .
We have been spoiled by greatness from guys like Kavi, LeBron, Kobe, Duncan, Shaak, Jordan, Isaiah, Bird and Magic. We believe that stars like this should always take their regular-season talent and perform at the same level automatically despite the pressure, anger and difficulties of the playoffs.
Harden reminds us that there is no such guarantee. For every Time Great, there are many who have talent, not just greatness.
The surprising thing about NBA playoffs and Harden’s fourth quarter, especially during this series, is that a history of failure or a reputation for playoff struggles has always been just a magical run from a flipping story.
Clayton Kershaw is still awaiting his playoff redemption, and he could definitely reach this year if he and the Dodgers finally win it. The Philip Rivers window is also closing, but the plates could provide a fresh start and improved shots on playoff greatness. We will see. These things could change, as they might be for Harden, if he hadn’t disappeared into the series when his team put him on edge.
It wasn’t that in these moments Harden didn’t get a chance to show his subtlety. He did. He just failed, was scared and awkward playing basketball games, so it’s painful to look at the brand.
There’s still time, of course, to turn things around. Others have done.
John Alway did not win big, until the end of his career, when he won two Super Bowls. Stephen Strasberg was the poster boy for fear – in this case of injury – until last year, a brief tour of the team’s championship plans. LeBron James, now one of the greatest playoff performers in the history of American sports, also struggled under the weight of the 2011 Toxic Big 3 story in the NBA final against Dallas.
Hordon had a unique plan with a unique talent and a new sidekick in Russell Westbrook. Rockets, too, could have flipped the script.
It is not Westbrook’s fault that they will fail again. Westbrook, despite its shortcomings, is willing to at least try, no matter what. Sometimes, in this series, he tried and failed. Sometimes, like the 25-point performance on Thursday night (including 10 in the fourth quarter), it’s net positive. But at least he’s trying.
Failure is bad. Failure that becomes a vulnerable fear is worse.
This is not Mike D’Anto’s fault, even if adjustments have been made. Because of the fact that the Rockets won Game 1, and they were in action 2 and 3 late in the game, while the stars must move on. And Harden, in those moments, is no star.
Kavi and LeBron have made this look almost so easy, this playoff-performance-on-steroids thing they do, these finals MVP greatness they have turned to each other for the good part of the last 10 years. The Western Conference will clearly go through their teams and those two players, as those two players are great in moments of greatness in the game.
It is rare. It’s hard to do. And that’s something, a lot of players have struggled with. Harden is not alone in that list, but he can now give that title.
Harden has told us who he is: a star who fades into the spotlight, the most valuable player in the regular season, turning into the Most Vanish player during the playoffs showdown in the fourth quarter.
I believe he can change this storyline, as many other players can turn failure and despair into greatness and victory.
But how do you trust a player, even a talented guy like Harden, who doesn’t believe in himself?
He needed a player to take over the game and be a star for that moment.
It’s not hard. And it looks like it never starts coming.
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