HOUSTON – James Harden headed straight for the tunnel as the final buzzer sounded at the end of the sixth game on Friday, without nodding or giving an appreciative glance.
It's hard to blame Harden for this Harden does not want to see more of the Golden State Warriors, the dynasty that repeatedly doomed his Houston Rockets.
Harden has yet to wait at least a year to pursue his first championship after the Rockets were eliminated by the Warriors' playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.
"Fight on, man," Harden said after the Warriors scored a 118-113 victory to kill the Rockets. "Obviously they are a very, very good team, they are a great team, they have been in the final four or five years in the final, we are not losing against a few scrubs, we have to find one."
The Long-Time Search for an NBA Championship Parade in Houston Downtown as Hakeem Olajuwon and the Clutch City Teams That was an all-hands-on-deck mission for the Rockets a generation ago in successive summers Having beaten the Western Conference semi-finals on Friday, Harden's rockets have taken a significant step back when they won a victory before reaching the NBA final.
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"People say, 'I want to make it into the NBA' and then their goals change. 'I want to be a really good player in this league' to be in the league, "Harden said recently to ESPN.
"I want to be one of the best players ever to touch basketball, of course I have to get the other awards and stuff, win a chip and all the good stuff, but why not, what am I playing for, why not?"
"I think he's already one of the best players to win," said Daryl Morey, general manager of Rockets ESPN earlier in the playoffs. "Let's hope we'll delete him from this list very soon … I think we'll fix that shortly."
By this time, however, Harden's postseason flaws are a blemish on his legacy that prevents him from being widely denied that he is one of the leading greats of all time.
His post-season performances are overshadowed by his playoff mistakes. Harden has already completed eight playoff games with 40 points, which were surpassed in the NBA history of only eleven players. His most memorable performances after the season, however, were miserable exits – a dodger with ten points and six sales at the Kawhi Leonard-less Spurs ended the run of the 2017 Rockets with a router in Houston; a 2-by-11 shooting, 12-turnover nightmare in a 2015 elimination game against the Warriors; "I'm not really paying attention," Harden said. "The best part of the situation is that I do not focus on it and do not pay attention to it, people will always have something to say, good and bad, as I said until you were." In this position you will not understand. It does not make sense that I try to explain it to you. "
HOUSTON STUMBLED TO launched this season after appearing in the Western 2018 final with 11-14 was certainly alarming.
It forced Morey to admit that Carmelo Anthony, the low-risk but well-known addition to the Rockets' offseason, had one It took 10 games for Houston to realize that the Melo experiment was a catastrophe that led to an embarrassing divorce.
Owner Tilman Fertitta was asked to remove assistant head coach Jeff Bzdelik from his brief retirement and Mike D & # 39; s Antoni & # 39; s to give right-handers a salary increase to return to the bank and contribute to solving Houston's dreadful defense problems.  And without the help of injured team-mates Chris Paul and Clint Capela made the best out of Harden for longer distances. He responded with the highest hit rate of the modern era – 32 consecutive appearances of more than 30 points, the longest of them except Wilt Chamberlain – to tow the missiles from the penultimate in the West rating to legitimacy – contender status.
Players of Harden's caliber are ultimately judged by playoff scores, but this was undoubtedly a legendary regular season. The 29-year-old Harden dragged the injured missiles from the bottom of the West Ranking list while compiling what was arguably the best offensive season ever. Information on the playoffs can be found here.
Harden raised his scoring average more than any reigning scoring champion since Chamberlain, rising from 30.4 to 36.1 points per game. Some have attributed the increase to a higher volume, but what historically made Harden's season so rare was his ability to maintain incredible efficiency at such a high workload. He had a true shooting percentage of .616 this season, slightly higher than his career standard and his average for the statistics in the last three seasons. It was also the highest score a player has ever had and averaged at least 35 points in a season.
"He gets better every year," said D & # 39; Antoni. "He had a better year this year than last year, he had a better year last year than he did in the first year, he cares better about his body, he eats better, he does more training, he has added a step backwards he does." but now he has somehow perfected it. He added a floater that he had, but now it's better. His defense has improved every year. The man is phenomenal.
Houston player development coach Irv Roland, who works daily with Harden on the road and with him on the road during the summer, saw Harden record a significant increase in speed after the 2015/16 rocketing season, with Houston scoring in the first round 41-41 finish – the Rocket's worst season with Harden – and was the only time since joining the Rockets from the All-NBA teams, even though he finished second in the league and sixth in assists. Roland had no doubt that Harden's hunger would not be satisfied by winning the MVP in 2018.
"I know him and he wants to win a championship," Roland said. "A single award is great, but it was not as if that were the stop. It's almost like defeating the Golden State. Our goal is not to defeat the Golden State. It is to win a championship. This is the ultimate goal for those who. "Big picture."
BUT THE WARRIORS are the hurdle that Harden and Houston can not take. The Rockets have tried four times in five years and failed. The first two attempts were so long, the last two a worthy challenger, making the endings as painful as Game 2 of Draymond Green, which blew Harden's eyes from this series.
Morey admits he is aware of the pressure to capitalize on a window to win a title that is primarily cracked by Harden's ability.
I'll ever go, "said Morey," I hope I have a very long career behind me and somebody gets along better, but I think that's unlikely. He is so good. That's why I had the feeling that when we started slowly to let him down, it was quite disturbing. "
But the missiles reared up the ship and roared to the best all-star record in the NBA after Houston's grid had gotten better and Morey had renewed the bank, with Harden and Houston finally planned to cross the mountain – especially after Kevin Durant went down – but the Warriors' rule continues.
Harden's career playoff statistics generally diverge from his regular numbers, especially those of his season in efficiency, though averaging 28.1 points and 7.0 assists per game were obtained in the postseason, as the missile pursuer can hardly be considered shrinking.
It is a stretch to blame Harden for the inability of the missiles to break through, especially a year ago when Pauls Hamstring wore off when the rockets had the warriors on the ropes, but the "best" ever to touch a basketball can not go back to what if mature.
Of course, a titling run would be all it takes to change the narrative. Take, for example, Dirk Nowitzki, who destroyed the silly talk about the soft Euro stereotype by winning the Dallas Mavericks to the title of 2011, five years after he had been defeated in the NBA final.
But others on the list to which Morey referred The best ringless legends prove how rare and precious these occasions are often. Charles Barkley has only participated in a final. The same goes for Allen Iverson, who came there as a 25-year-old MVP and never made it again. John Stockton and Karl Malone got a couple of cracks as a duo and were both challenged by Michael Jordan's bulls, as was Barkley. Heck, Paul came to Houston because he thought it gave him the best chance to remove his name from this list. He had not even snooped the conference finale before last season.
Harden was the sixth man in the Thunder to score a final and fought a three-digit result in the series as the Heat won in five games. He's upset for another crack, but the Warriors keep bothering him.
"It's been a driving force since I'm in the league," Harden said about winning a championship. "That's the goal of all who play in the NBA, that's what it is.
" Ultimately, it will not decide my success, my luck and all the good. After all, you enter a career, you get into things you love because you obviously love them, but you want to take care of your family, you want to take care of people around you, you want to make people happy, and all the best stuff. So it will not determine my ultimate career, my life. But it's one of those things you work on. Every day, when I'm in the gym, I think about it.
Once again, Harden has more off-season time than he wants to think about the goal that keeps coming back.