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James Harden’s Huge Game Squandered as Warriors Hold On for Game 2 Win

The Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry and the Houston Rockets’ James Harden stayed in close competition throughout the 2014-15 NBA season as the league’s No. 1 and 2 MVP candidates.

Curry was the food to his team, building it up to its 67-win strength. Basketball fans everywhere enjoyed watching his rainbow threes and ankle-breaking crossovers just as much as your average American male enjoys a nice porterhouse steak.

Harden, on the other hand, was the water to his squad—not quite as glamorous, but no less important. While the Warriors could survive decently well without their food on the floor for stretches of time, the Rockets needed water to keep their system fully functional.

In Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals between their teams, both players emphatically reiterated their diverse cases.

But similar to the voting for the award, Curry’s Warriors edged out Harden’s Rockets 99-98 on Thursday to take a 2-0 series lead.

The Beard played a slightly better contest than the Warriors superstar. He posted a cool 38 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists on 13-of-21 shooting from the field. Critics of his game often point to his reliance on free throws as an indictment of his true scoring ability, but Harden had no trouble getting his points with the clock running Thursday night. Step-backs, pull-up threes, hesitation dribbles leading to nice finishes at the rim—you name it, he did it.

His bobble of the ball in a semi-transition opportunity on the final play of the game may grab some headlines, but it shouldn’t mar a dominant overall performance.

Curry’s performance was ever-so-slightly less impressive, but to say he didn’t also kill it would be unfair. Like Harden, Steph drilled 13 of his 21 field goals, including 5-of-11 from long-distance, to finish with 33 points and six assists.

But there was one intriguing statistic from Thursday—Curry’s plus-minus for the game was negative-7 while Harden’s was plus-12, despite Golden State’s win.

In a contest where James “Water” Harden’s overall impact trumped that of Stephen “Food” Curry, the win was there for Houston’s role players to take.

Unfortunately for Rockets fans, the supporting cast wasn’t up to the task on Thursday.

All playoffs long, Houston’s depth has pulled through when the squad needed it most. Trevor Ariza, Josh Smith, Terrence Jones, Corey Brewer and even Pablo Prigioni have all taken over games at various points during the postseason.

But not tonight.

Harden, along with Dwight Howard (19 points and 17 rebounds), were the ones who led Houston all the way back from 17 down midway through the second quarter to a halftime tie. The two helped Houston sneak back into the game in the fourth quarter after being down eight points to give their team a chance at a win in the final seconds.

Overall, players not named Harden or Howard shot 18-of-52 (34.6) for a measly 41 points. Their defensive effort wasn’t quite what we’ve come to expect from them, and resulted in a 53.2 percent shooting night from the Warriors. Smith was the biggest culprit, producing a nightmarish 5-of-17 shooting line with only one rebound.

Rockets fans, your superstar’s MVP case looked stronger than ever in Game 2. But it still wasn’t enough to secure a win.

The supporting cast needs to regain its mojo, and fast.

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