James Harden Disappearing Act Costs Thunder NBA Finals

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistJune 22, 2012

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 17:  James Harden #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder stands on court with his head down in the second half against the Miami Heat in Game Three of the 2012 NBA Finals on June 17, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

For all intents and purposes, the Oklahoma City Thunder laid an egg in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, allowing the Miami Heat to swoop in and run away with their first championship since 2006. LeBron James and Chris Bosh got their first rings, while Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem picked up the elusive No. 2.

However, the biggest story of the NBA Finals from the Thunder side of the page was the complete disappearance of James Harden. Sure, Russell Westbrook had a terrible Game 5 and they made some dumb mistakes in the waning moments of seemingly every game, but the biggest difference between the Thunder in the NBA Finals and the Thunder in the Western Conference finals was James Harden's production.

Save for a single half of basketball, James Harden never got it going in the series. In the first half of Game 2, he put up 17 points—a full quarter of his 62 points in the series.

Game 1 saw Harden barely involved in the offense, but he wasn't really needed, as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook dominated. He came up big in Game 2, scoring 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field, but then vanished for the final three games of the series. He shot a combined 4-of-20 in Games 3 and 4, scoring just 17 points. Game 5 saw Harden score 19 points on 5-of-11 shooting, but most of his production came long after the Heat had wrapped up the championship.

In all, Harden shot 18-of-48 and 7-of-22 from three-point range during the series. He averaged nearly six points less per game and shot 15 percent worse than he did during the regular season.

Just how bad was James Harden compared to the rest of his season? In 62 regular-season games and 15 postseason games before the finals, Harden scored in single digits just four times.

He's now done it three times in the past five games.

But that's just scratching the surface of what was wrong with Harden in this series.

Harden was outplayed by LeBron James every time he had to guard him, but there's no real way to fault him for that. LeBron is bigger and stronger, and there's no way Harden could have grown an inch or two to really keep him in check.

There wasn't another player in this series that looked as uncertain as Harden. That uncertainty and lack of confidence was worse than Russell Westbrook shooting too much, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins faltering late in games or Scotty Brooks refusing to budge on his lineups—even when it made more sense to go with one guy over another.

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 21:  Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat and James Harden #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder fight for a loose ball in the first half of Game Five of the 2012 NBA Finals on June 21, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO US
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is Miami won and Oklahoma City lost. However, James Harden's struggles were the biggest reason this series went one way and not the other.

Never fear, however. LeBron James struggled mightily with confidence issues in the 2011 NBA Finals, and look where he is now. Harden and the Thunder should be back next season, and they'll know what to expect. 


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