James Harden has best chance to change his playoff narrative

The narrative, truthful or not, is on the market.

He dominates within the common season. He disappoints within the postseason — no less than, when it issues most.

James Harden has been accused of it. And certainly he has heard it. This yr he will get to change it — a mission that began in earnest Saturday with Game 1 in opposition to the Bucks in an Eastern Conference semifinal that feels extra befitting an NBA Finals.

“I’ve run into some very, very good teams, which is one of the reasons why I’ve been short,” Harden mentioned of his scrutinized playoff failures all through the years.

“[The Bucks] have had their core and then they added some really good pieces, which is why they’ve been one of the best teams all year. As you look at our roster, we’re elite, too. It’s going to be a showdown. I’m more than confident going into this postseason.”

Harden’s confidence is warranted. Adding Harden to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving made the Nets the betting favorite to win the title. While Durant and Irving have already got three rings between them, Harden has none.

Over the years, Harden has been agonizingly shut to a championship. Six occasions, his group has been eradicated by the eventual champion. In two others, his membership fell to juggernaut Warriors groups that reached the Finals.

James Harden
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

In Greek mythology, Tantalus was cursed to go thirsty and hungry although standing in a pool of water below a fruit tree with low branches — however simply excessive sufficient he may by no means attain them. Surely Harden would sympathize. He’d additionally say this season shall be totally different.

“Every year your plan is to win a championship — that’s every player’s dream and mindset every single year. Obviously in reality it’s only a handful of teams that have an opportunity, and we’re one of those teams,” Harden mentioned. “So, the thrill is there, however the focus is an important factor.

“Obviously, we all are excited and locked-in, but we just have to keep reiterating it and reiterating it. We have to keep making sure we know how important detail is and how important each possession is. … I think our team will be really, really good, because obviously offensively we’re great. We just got to have some consistency.”

Harden has persistently starred within the common season and struggled when it mattered probably the most. He’s averaging 23.8 factors on 38 % taking pictures — 25 % from deep — and 6.7 turnovers in his final six elimination video games.

There was Game 5 of the Rockets’ 2017 Western Conference semifinal when, with the collection tied 2-2, he had a possible tying 3-pointer blocked by the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili as time expired in extra time.

Houston dealt for Chris Paul that offseason, and having fun with a star operating mate, Harden gained the MVP Award. But Paul acquired harm in Game 5 of the convention finals, and Harden shot simply 2-for-13 from deep in Game 7. The Rockets bricked 27 straight 3s and blew a 12-point lead in a loss to the Warriors.

The subsequent season, Harden averaged a staggering 36.1 factors — probably the most since Michael Jordan in 1987 — however the Rockets misplaced within the playoffs to the Warriors for the fourth time in 5 years. And dealing Paul for Russell Westbrook earlier than final season resulted in Houston’s postseason ouster by the hands of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers.

Harden had watched as Durant bolted Oklahoma City and gained a pair of rings with Golden State. Convinced that his Rockets group had peaked, Harden pressured his means out earlier this season to be a part of Durant and Irving. And he’s assured the Nets — for which that trio has performed collectively simply eight occasions within the common season and 5 within the playoffs coming into Game 1 — hasn’t peaked but.

“We haven’t reached that point because we haven’t been together for a long time. So our goal individually and for a team is to continue to get better every day,” mentioned Harden, satisfied that’s nonetheless to come for the Nets.

“Yeah, of course. Especially when we get stops — multiple stops in a row and we go out and we get layups and 3s, it’s very difficult to beat us.”

That’s the purpose.

John Elway and Jason Kidd acquired their first titles at 37. Tantalus by no means acquired his fruit, however this is likely to be the best shot for Harden to lastly earn his ring.

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