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James Harden’s Nightmare Performance Ends the Rockets’ Season

Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

The 2015 Western Conference Finals were the best of times for James Harden, the 2015 Western Conference Finals were the worst of times for James Harden.

The Houston Rockets’ superstar shooting guard hit rock bottom with an NBA playoff-record 13 turnovers in Game 5 on Wednesday night as the Golden State Warriors closed out the Rockets at Oracle Arena with a 104-90 victory to reach the NBA Finals. Harden also had just 14 points on 2-of-11 shooting.

His last giveaway was the worst, as he dribbled the ball off his foot with 40 seconds to go to spoil Houston’s last-ditch attempt at a comeback.


Wednesday’s horrid performance came just two nights after an MVP-level display in Game 4, in which The Beard dropped 45 points on 13-of-22 shooting accompanied by just three turnovers to prevent a Warriors sweep.

Overall, the series was one of pronounced high points and even more extreme low points for the Rockets’ main offensive option.

Harden played very well in Games 1, 2 and 4, averaging 37 points, 10 rebounds and 7.7 assists with 3.3 turnovers on 58.7 percent shooting in those contests. He was putrid in Games 3 and 5, ending with 15.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists with 7.0 turnovers per game on 18.5 (!) percent shooting in the two tilts.

In Game 5, though, it wasn’t only Harden. Houston struggled to find any offensive rhythm, shooting 35.1 percent from the field with 20 turnovers as a team. The Rockets struggled to value possessions, repeatedly throwing the ball away carelessly and taking ill-advised shots.

However, you have to give the Warriors’ defense a lot of the credit for Houston’s offensive struggles. They played with active hands and forced many tough shots late in the shot clock.

Festus Ezeli played the role of surprise star for Golden State, putting in 12 points, nine rebounds and two blocks in 28 minutes off the bench. He got Andrew Bogut‘s minutes Wednesday, mostly because Bogut wasn’t contributing anything offensively (0-of-1 shooting for zero points in 19 minutes).

Not to mention, Ezeli made every shot at the rim a difficult one for the Rockets. Houston had just 34 points in the paint in Game 5, eight fewer than it had in any other contest.

All of this happened, and Houston still kept the game competitive until the fourth quarter.

Corey Brewer was a pest, as usual, contributing 16 points and making dribbling up the court a chore for Stephen Curry. Dwight Howard controlled the paint on defense with 16 rebounds and four blocks.

But once the final period rolled around, Harrison Barnes happened.

Playing mostly as a power forward, the 22-year-old Barnes scored all nine Warriors points in a two-minute stretch to extend the Golden State lead from eight to 15 points with seven minutes to go in the game. Following that defensive letdown by the Rockets, the contest was basically over. Houston made some scrappy plays to keep the score within reach, but a comeback surely wasn’t in the cards.

Where do the Rockets go from here?

This season was a smashing success, with the squad majorly outperforming expectations, especially considering the injuries. Harden and Howard are the team’s workhorses, but when Donatas Motiejunas and Patrick Beverley (assuming he’s re-signed) return from injury, the depth, already very strong, will only get better.

Despite its 4-1 season-ending series loss to the Warriors, you have to feel like this Houston squad will remain strong title contenders for the near future.

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