NBA Playoffs 2012: James Harden's Struggles Will Cost Thunder the Series

Matt ShetlerCorrespondent IMay 29, 2012

Any way you look at it, the Western Conference Finals between the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs promises to be an epic series filled with storylines and exciting basketball.

However, Thunder guard James Harden is doing his best to ruin all of that.  

His current struggles are going to be the reason that Oklahoma City watches the Spurs cruise into the NBA Finals.

The 2012 Sixth Man of the Year had a fantastic regular season, averaging 16.8 points per game while shooting 49 percent from the floor, but has experienced his struggles as of late.

During the past six games, Harden has averaged 16.5 points, right around his season average, but he's now only making 37 percent of his attempts from the floor, including a 7-of-17 effort in Game 1.

In the playoffs, it comes down to stars playing like stars, and in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, Harden did not play that way. He struggled from the floor, got called for two crucial late charge calls and didn't get to the free-throw line once. 

For a guy that lives at the charity-stripe, that may not be an option in this series, as every Thunder player had trouble scoring inside thanks to the Spurs' collapsing defense.

During Game 1, the Spurs enjoyed a 50-26 advantage in points in the paint, as the Thunder missed 20 of their 33 shots in the lane.

If Harden isn't playing aggressively and getting to the free-throw line, he's not the same player. If that's the case, then Oklahoma City is in trouble.

Just look at Game 1 and the effect that Manu Ginobili had on the game. Ginobili not only scored 26 points on just 14 shot attempts, but he made timely baskets and took over the game at times.

That's something Harden usually does.

Of course, the Thunder loss isn't to be put squarely on Harden's shoulders. Point guard Russell Westbrook wasn't very good either in Game 1. 

Yet for the Thunder to win this series, Harden must be a whole lot better.

If he's not, we may not have the epic seven-game series that NBA fans are hoping for.