In Oklahoma City, Harden didn't have to feel much pressure late in games, other than the occasional free-throw line game-clincher. Now, he's going to have plays called for him, defenses scheming to stop his attack and the entire 20,000-fan crowd waiting to see how he responds.
Against Miami, it wasn't a positive result. Harden had three chances to extend the lead or win the game for Houston. He missed badly on consecutive three-pointers with the team still up by four and then one. After Miami extended a late lead to three, it was Harden time in Houston.
The Rockets appeared to run a set where Jeremy Lin came off a high screen at the top of the arc, but Harden wanted the ball in his hands. He forced up a step-back three over the outstretched arms of LeBron James that clanked the side of the rim, and the game was over.
That raises two questions in one play—One, is he the right guy to be closing games and two, if he is, why isn't he looking to attack the rim?
Lin had just airballed a three that would have tied the game. I understand his decision to take the final shot. It's what true closers do—they want the ball. But with the ball in his hands late in the game, Harden turns into a jump shooter almost exclusively.
According to 82games.com, 62 percent of Harden's shots have been jumpers in "clutch" time. The site defines clutch as the last five minutes of a game where neither team is leading by more than five points. His effective shooting percentage is a whopping 16 percent, and he hasn't been assisted at all in those scenarios.
As the season progresses and Harden becomes more comfortable in the closing role, I think those stats will change. Until then, look for McHale and Co. to call plays that cater to the strengths of this team—even when the game is on the line.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for the Dallas Mavericks, the NBA and Bleacher Report's Breaking News Team.