James Harden’s frustrating NBA finals continued in the Miami Heat’s 104-98 win on Tuesday night, and if the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year can’t regain his scoring touch soon, the Oklahoma City Thunder may not live to see a Game 6.
For the second straight game, Harden shot a dismal 2 for 10 from the field and Tuesday he had twice as many turnovers (4) as made shots. In four games, Harden has reached double-figure scoring only once, leaving Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to shoulder nearly the entire offensive load for Oklahoma City.
That formula simply isn’t working for the Thunder, who suddenly find themselves in a 3-1 hole — a deficit no team has ever overcome in an NBA Finals series.
“Of course, any basketball player would be frustrated if his shot’s not falling, but you’ve got to stick with it,” Harden told the Oklahoman. “It’s basketball. You don’t make [all your] shots every single day, every single game. I’ve got to go back tomorrow in practice, work on my mechanics and be ready for Thursday.”
After he managed a playoff-low five points in the Thunder’s Game 1 win, Harden emphasized wins over individual stats. But with his team needing another offensive weapon to get back into the series, he hasn’t been able to provide his usual spark off the bench.
In Game 4, Harden was outscored by Miami’s third-leading scorer, Chris Bosh (13) points and previously-slumping point guard Mario Chalmers (25). Harden was 0 for 4 in the fourth quarter including a blown layup that would have given the Thunder the lead early in the quarter. Despite a huge offensive output from Westbrook (43 points) and typical production from Durant (28), the Thunder couldn’t counter Miami’s supporting cast production.
Excluding his 21-point performance in Game 2, Harden is averaging just 7.3 points and is shooting an abysmal 6 for 36 (16.7 percent) from the field, including 2 for 11 from three-point range. Coming into the series, Harden had averaged 17.6 points per game.
With Westbrook and Durant dominating the ball down the stretch, his looks are often on the perimeter where he has struggled to find his touch. When he has had the ball lately, he’s looked tentative and has tried to force passes at times instead of finding his own shot. And clearly the task of guarding a bigger, stronger LeBron James for stretches of the night is taking a toll on Harden’s ability at the offensive end.
“It’s tough,” Harden said of defending James, who is three inches and about 40 pounds heavier than he is. “He has me by a couple of inches and a lot more power. He’s big and strong. I just try my best to win that fight and compete every play.”
But if Harden, who is expected to be one of the league’s most coveted free agents after next season, can’t pick up the scoring slack, the Thunder will be hard-pressed to send the series back home for Game 6.