James Harden isn't so much a sore loser as he is a cranky, someone-give-that-guy-a-Snickers loser.
Following their 112-105 Game 2 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, the Houston Rockets predictably weren't in good spirits or especially chatty. Who could blame them? They lost two straight games at home, stripping themselves of home-court advantage and putting Portland in the driver's seat.
Questions and comments about their loss were never going to be met with hugs or fist pounds, but Harden was particularly irritable and took exception to one reporter asking about his shooting percentages, per ESPN's Tom Haberstroh:
The team is clearly on edge. That was no more evident in the Rockets' newly renovated, state-of-the-art, $7 million locker room where Harden had a contentious verbal exchange with a longtime media member who asked about his 14-of-47 (29.8 percent) shooting mark in this series.
Harden flatly said he wasn't worried about his offense.
"It's basketball," Harden said. "You're going to miss shots. It's basketball, that's it."
It's like they always say: Don't poke the beard.
Clearly on edge from the loss, Harden moved on, answering other questions without barking or biting, emphasizing the importance of defense.
No, seriously, defense.
"I'm not worried about my offense, I'm worried about our defense—our defense as a team," he said.
Most of us share Harden's anxiety. I've been worried about his defense since 2009, when he first entered the NBA and his face was more, well, face than dense jungle.
Worrying about defense, however, didn't stop Harden—who was obviously still frustrated—from doubling back to that insensitive monster who dared to inquire about his offensive efficiency:
A few minutes later, the questions stopped coming, but not before Harden, evidently still aggravated, circled back and spun the questioning to the aforementioned reporter, taking issue with his basketball credibility.
"You've never seen someone shoot 29 percent in two games? You must not watch basketball."
The longtime reporter responded that he'd watching basketball longer than Harden had been alive. And that Harden should be held to a higher standard because he is All-NBA.
"Weirdo," Harden said, before walking out of the room once Houston's PR staff stepped in.
Label me a "weirdo" too. I've seen players shoot 29 percent from the floor before, special thanks to Brandon Jennings and J.R. Smith, but I still find it unacceptable, especially when those numbers are coming from a star. Especially when that star is struggling on offense when it matters most. So my apologies to Mr. Harden. Guess I'm just kooky like that.
But Harden should get used to inquiries like this. Stars are held to a higher standard. He must improve his offensive performance in addition to his defensive displays, as Bleacher Report's John Wilmes wrote after Game 1:
He's pushing the ball down the floor constantly, managing one of the league's top offenses, and one that operates with unusual speed. It's hard to have much left for the other side.
But the postseason has arrived, and with it comes a higher bar.
The Rockets need Harden to D up, but most of all they need him to be a hero without playing hero ball. It’s a fine line and one especially hard to walk under the duress of playoff pressure. Is Harden up to the challenge?
Trailing Portland 2-0, it's time Harden ditched the locker room sniping and started zeroing in on both ends of the floor. The Rockets are now leaving the "comfort" of the Toyota Center and traveling to Portland, where the Blazers are 31-10 on the year, having turned the Moda Center into a near-impregnable stronghold.
"Game 3 is our season," Harden said, per Haberstroh.
It most certainly is their season.
No NBA team has ever successfully fought back from a 3-0 series deficit. If the Rockets lose Game 3 Friday, their season is over, and totally legitimate, not-at-all-malicious postgame inquests will be the least of Harden's problems.