OAKLAND — There they were, the MVP and the almost MVP, hugging. For one man, Stephen Curry, it was congratulatory, and for the other, James Harden, it was comforting. The end had arrived for Harden and the Houston Rockets. There were no more games to play.
The Warriors, led by Curry, the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, had beaten the Rockets, 104-90, in the Western Conference Finals Wednesday night before a sellout crowd that sent cheers cascading down the tiers of Oracle Arena in ear-splitting glory. It is on to the finals for the golden men of Golden State. It is on to the summer, Houston.
So tough a finish for Houston, which could win only one of the five games. So tough a finish from the almost MVP, Harden, who after a fantastic Game 4 — 45 points, nine rebounds — flopped ignominiously in Game 5 largely against the defense of Andre Iguodala.
He missed 9 of 11 field goal attempts, and all three from the three-point line. He had an NBA-playoff-record 13 turnovers. He finished with 14 points.
“James didn’t play well,” conceded Kevin McHale, the Rockets coach, stating the obvious.
Only the other day, on a website dedicated to the Rockets, a writer said of Harden, “There is no longer any reasonable doubt that Harden is good enough to be the best player on a championship team.”
Unfortunately for Houston, on what turned out to be the last game of solid season, he wasn’t nearly the best on the court. He was a man who perhaps tried too hard.
“I tried to do a little too much,” Harden agreed, “and we turned the ball over a lot in transition. Thirteen turnovers is too many. I put so much pressure on myself to be really good every night.
“We just couldn’t do it, get a stop. We put ourselves in a tough situation down 3-0. We tried. They’re a good team. Came back from a 3-1 deficit in the conference semifinals to beat the Clippers. But they’re not as good as the Warriors. v “Those first two games here were the difference,” said Harden. “We had chances, but in the playoffs it doesn’t matter how you get it done. A win is a win.”
And those wins turned into losses.
Someone wondered if in trying to carry the Rockets, Harden might have become weary. “I’m all right,” he responded, then smiled. “I’m 25 years old.”
McHale, from the bench, saw what Harden experienced on the floor.
“Partially because of the turnovers,” said the Rockets coach, who won titles as a player with the Celtics, “I mean, James didn’t play well, but as I’ve said all year long, we don’t win the division, we don’t win 56 games, we don’t have home court, we don’t beat the Clippers in Game 7 if it wasn’t for James. He had a tough go tonight. There’s nothing else you can really say about it, man.”
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.bleacherreport.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.