James Harden (Los Angeles, California, 26/8/1989) is confirming his status as a superstar in these Playoffs after years of failure in the race for the ring. Along Joel Embiid, ‘The Beard’ has recovered his essence at the Philadelphia 76ers and is proving that he is one of the best offensive players of all times.
However, the popular recognition is not something that James Harden has really enjoyed of throughout his career. His playing style has been considered by many as selfish or that he just prioritized his individual stats over the team’s benefit. Another aspect of criticism throughout his trajectory has been his tendency to earn weight during the offseason.
Also NBA legends such as Shaquille O’Neal have shown their disagreement with the talented player from Los Angeles, in this case, after the trade that sent the 2018/2019 season MVP to the Brooklyn Nets, finishing this way his nine years stay at the Houston Rockets: “When James Harden says that he gave it all for the city, he is lying”, assured O’Neal.
Furthermore, the member of the Basketball Hall of Fame of the NBA criticized his lack of leadership: “When he had to prove the most, when he had to take a step forward, he did not. When you are ‘The Man’ and earns 34 million dollars, you have a great responsibility. When it is time for him to shine, he has not shined”.
Even his current teammate, who has been recently named as the MVP, Joel Embiid, explained after being knocked out against the Miami Heat in the last Playoffs that “he is not the Houston’s player” and that he should have been “more aggressive” during that series that sent the 76ers home. However, in these series, specially against the Boston Celtics, Harden has taken the step forward that he has been asked to take since he has joined the Doc Rivers’ squad.
Two ‘game winners’ and scoring exhibitions:
After a regular season where he has been the top assistant in the league, becoming the first player in history to collect three titles of top scorer and two of top assistant, in the series, James Harden has played the nine games that the Sixers have disputed averaging 22.3 points per game, 8.3 assists and 6.1 rebounds.
With these stats, ‘The Beard’ leads his team in assists, third in the Playoffs, and steals. In addition, he is among the Top 3 at points and rebounds in the Sixers.
Another important data is that he is averaging his best triples percentage in a postseason (42.3%), and his lowest number of ball lost per game (2.8) without considering his stay at Oklahoma where he would take part in the second half, which is something that he was always accused of in his previous stays at Houston and Brooklyn.
After a good first series against the Nets, James Harden is proving in this Conference Semifinals against the Boston Celtics why he was the MVP of the league and one of the most feared players in the NBA. During these series, the shooting guard has left two performances for the ages in the first and fourth game.
In the first game, which took place at the TD Garden in Boston, James Harden scored 45 points with a 50% in triples (7/14), six assists and two steals, apart from the winner triple that he scored with only ten seconds left in the game.
Then after falling two consecutive times, Harden became once again the hero, this time at home, at the Wells Fargo Center, when the Celtics had the chance to get an almost definitive 3-1 in the series.
In this fourth game, the shooting guard scored 42 points (16 out of 23 on field goals and six out of nine triples), nine assists, eight rebounds, four steals and just one lost. In this game, once again through a triple, James Harden gave the win to the Sixers in the over time to even the series.
On the other hand, this fourth game also showed the great heart from the ‘1’ for the Sixers. At the end of the game, Harden met up with John Hao, a student from the Michigan State University and a fan of ‘The Beard’ who was hurt during a shooting downtown back in February.
When he found out, the player had a video call with him and promised him tickets for one of his game whenever he left the hospital. That game was the fourth of the series and Hao could enjoy of an exhibition from his idol and then meet up with him and get a gift that consisted of a signed shoes by Harden.
Now, after the win in the fifth game where Harden contributed with 17 points (4/8 in field goals attempts), eight rebounds and ten assists, the Sixers are one step away from returning to the Conference Finals for the first time since the 2000-2001 season and it is mostly thanks to him.
Harden is experiencing his own redemption in these Playoffs that could lead him to his first ring in order to confirm a matchless career by one of the best offensive players in the history of basketball.
Translated by Guillermo Bermejo.
Main image: @sixers.